Mind & Matter


The Additive Manufacturing Revolution

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Polymer high resolution 3D print created with 3D Systems' InVision HR 3-D printer.


Last week I had the opportunity to participate in a panel on additive manufacturing at Hatch, a multidisciplinary design conference in Asheville, North Carolina. The panel was moderated by Elite Kedan, architect and adjunctpProfessor at Florida International University, and participants included Douglas Hecker, professor at Clemson University, and Rajeev Kulkarni, head of global engineering and R&D for 3D Systems.

The American Society of Testing and Materials defines additive manufacturing as “the process of joining materials to make objects from 3D model data, usually layer upon layer, as opposed to subtractive manufacturing methodologies, such as traditional machining.” In the architecture field, additive manufacturing is typically referred to as 3D printing, since the most common methods utilize a device that functions like the head of an ink jet printer.

Kuklarni, who gave an introductory lecture, is particularly bullish about the technology. He described the rapid growth of additive manufacturing in healthcare, education, industrial design, architecture, and other industries. He concluded with the bold prediction that base model 3D printers will be offered for $500 by next Christmas—low enough for many families to purchase one for the home. In the conversation that followed, we discussed the future implications for architecture, such as 3D-printed buildings, changes in material delivery systems, and the legal implications of architectural components printed directly from CAD models. I suggested that because architecture is conceptually an additive process, additive manufacturing is an appropriate fit—in contrast with the predominantly subtractive processes by which materials have been made since the industrial revolution.



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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.