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If architect James Gardiner is even half right, 3D printing is about to launch a digital design revolution.
Dr Gardiner believes it will transform our world like the industrial revolution did in the 18th and 19th centuries.
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How to 3D print a lattice
Using similar technology to that which could be employed to print coral, this 3D printer makes everyday objects intriguing again.
His enthusiasm for the technology is infectious.
“Using 3D-printed wax moulds for concrete components, we will have a completely different paradigm. This is transformative technology,” he said.
Dr Gardiner’s methods using the FreeFAB Wax system could resurrect the use of waffle slabs, which are generally too expensive using traditional methods. Photo: Laing O’Rourke
A 3D printer uses technology like a traditional “ink-jet” printer but builds up layers in three dimensions using wax, concrete or plastics to create a solid structure or mould.
Typical construction uses uniform, mass-produced, prefabricated products; 3D printing allows for one-off, creative designs at a fraction of the price.
As well as changing the way we think about the built environment, Dr Gardiner wants to further develop his work on 3D-printed artificial reefs.
Some of Dr Gardiner’s designs for artificial ocean reefs are on display this month at the Powerhouse Museum’s exhibition, Out of Hand, Materialising the Digital.
James Gardiner’s early design of a 3D-printed artificial reef eight months after it was submerged off the coast of Bahrain. Photo: Reef Design Lab
“Most artificial reefs use simple, cheap materials that are simplistic and homogenous. They are not well suited for their purpose,” Dr Gardiner said.
“Real reef assemblage is complex and multifunctional.”
James Gardiner designed 3D-printed coral scaffold to encourage coral reef growth. His designs are part of an exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum. Photo: Nick Moir
His designs are visually impressive, but do they work?
James Smith is a biologist at the University of NSW and an expert on artificial reefs. He took a look at Dr Gardiner’s designs.
James Gardiner design for an artificial reef.
He said while prefabricated steel and concrete reefs have proven cost-effective, he is interested in the development of 3D-printed reefs with fine-scale texture.
“The designed reefs we typically deploy lack much surface texture, and we notice that the marine life that colonises these reef surfaces can sometimes fall off,” Dr Smith said. “This could be reduced with more complex surface textures.
The 3D wax mould process: 1) the mould is printed; 2) the wax mould is milled to give fine detail; 3) the concrete is poured; 4) the wax is removed for reuse; 5) the final intricate building component.
“The current prefab steel and concrete structures are likely to be the go-to for some time but I would love to see some more innovation of surface textures of these prefab reefs though, and 3D printing may be a great way to explore this.”
David Lennon runs the company Reef Design Lab. He worked with Dr Gardiner on his early reef designs.
Michael Schmidt designed a 3D-printed dress modelled by Dita Von Teese. It is on display this month at the Powerhouse Museum.
“What I loved and was excited about was that James’ 3D-printed reefs allowed for a more organic and natural structure,” Mr Lennon said.
“The complexity of structure in a reef relates to the species diversity. But these structures aren’t just good for the fish and coral, the aesthetics of it are good for tourism, too.”
Manitoba tower design – every panel can be different when moulds don’t have to be reusable.
The company Dr Gardiner works for, Laing O’Rourke, is about to launch the world’s biggest 3D printer using Dr Gardiner’s innovations. It will make wax moulds for concrete construction components. He said this would allow architects and designers to think outside the box.
“No one thinks about making buildings like the Queen Victoria Building any more. The labour costs would be prohibitive. However, using printed wax moulds we make, architects can start to think about completely new designs.”
Most one-off bespoke panels for construction are beyond the budgets of most builders. He said his technology will bring these costs down.
“With 3D-printed architectural components we can incorporate aesthetic, structural, acoustic, thermal into a single design. It will bring meaningful change into the construction industry,” Dr Gardiner said.
“A process that would have taken days or weeks can be a two-hour process. And we recycle all our materials.”
The 3D printing and milling process can achieve high-resolution detail. “We could mill [Michelangelo’s] statue of David,” Dr Gardiner said.
The curator of the Powerhouse exhibition, Matthew Connell, said 3D printing is allowing designers across the board to think things anew.
“It allows for the role of the organic, for biomimicry, to return to design,” he said. “We are used to straight, Euclidean shapes, but 3D printing allows us to jump constraint of design.”
The artefacts on display at the Powerhouse are very diverse, including the world’s first 3D-printed jet engine and a Michael Schmidt-designed printed dress originally modelled by Dita Von Teese.
The exhibition opened this weekend as part of the Sydney Design Festival.