Building bigger and better on tighter deadlines and with increasingly sophisticated materials is a race to the top for additive manufacturing in architecture. However, technology is proving useful in the fields of design and construction. Some architects use it to push the boundaries of scale and form, while others use it to build component parts and accessories.
Platt Boyd, AIA, an architect based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, is the founder and CEO of Branch Technology, a four-person company that is working on a modular wall system that combines a free-form 3D printed open matrix core. with traditional building materials. Branch Technology recently unveiled a large-scale 3D printer that will be used to produce wall modules, taking it out of stealth mode. The printer features a 12.5-foot-long robotic arm on a 33-foot-long rail, which together provides a 25-foot-wide by 58-foot-long printing surface, allowing the team to produce larger modules and efficient.
The spray-applied concrete is laminated on top, followed by any fairly protective coating that can normally adhere to the concrete, says Boyd. Plastic is laid for plumbing and electricity, and openings for windows and doors are created – a difficult departure from the free-form nature of 3D-printed construction.
Boyd explains: “We are using that matrix [3D printed] as formwork or frame for these typical building materials.” “The ingredients become the force and the matrix becomes practically insignificant once the concrete is placed.” That is, structurally. Boyd’s panels free architects from the flat shapes of rebar construction, albeit at a cost, by fusing multi-story industrial-scale free-form 3D printing. Boyd expects the system to be non-load bearing and to be combined with a steel or concrete superstructure. The possibility of using different parts of the building that include matrix technology, such as roofing systems, is being explored, although the team continues to refine its process.
One area they are looking to improve is die printing, which is the slowest part of the system throughput. According to Boyd, they have printed a 7-foot-tall by 3-foot-wide wall in 30 hours and are extruding at a rate of 1.5 pounds per hour.
“It is not practical to create a skyscraper that takes a year to build,” he argues. “The traditional problem with additive manufacturing in construction has been how long it takes to generate materials and how expensive they are.”
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