GXN Innovation, an independent research company created by Danish architecture firm 3XN released its future vision for autonomous 3D printers. In this latest conceptual experiment involving additive manufacturing – part of the “Break the Grid” project – the firm was supported by the Dansk AM Hub, a government-supported Denmark’s platform that supports experimentation in additive manufacturing, and by MAP Architects. The result is swarms flying and diving 3D printing extrusion systems that can work autonomously to build and repair complex structures on land and in the sea.
These kinds of thought experiments, especially when supported by cool looking CG renders, may not have a significant impact on the short term future of constructions but they do help us understand the ways in which automated constructions could evolve. In particular, they help us visualize the extreme versatility of extrusion systems and the enormous range of possible applications.
The “Break the Grid” project is part of Danish AM-Hub Moonshots initiative to “take advantage on the power of additive manufacturing technology by removing the limit of 3D printing technology for a better world”. The project is based on three scenarios of global challenges. By “mobilizing” the 3D printers (by combining 3D printing and drone technology, something actually quite realistic), thus enabling them to move around natural and man-made environments, it becomes possible to address new challenges. This means that, by allowing 3D printing robots to crawl, fly, and swim, it’s possible to use these robots to repair almost any type of structure on land, underwater, and in the air.
The first global challenge addressed the deterioration of infrastructures, specifically micro-cracks that can create further damage in concrete structures. In this case, extrusion 3D printers – in this case it seems more appropriate to call the bioprinters – can use a porous filler mixed with Trichoderma Reesei fungus that allows for formation of calcium carbonate to repair these cracks. If autonomous hexapods are equipped with 3D printers, they can explore urban and remote concrete infrastructures to identify micro-cracks and repair them to prevent further damage.
The second global challenge addresses damages caused by climate change on coastal habitats. More than 10 percent of the world’s coastal populations live less than 10 meters above sea level: these populations are becoming more and more vulnerable to tsunamis and coastal storm surges. In this case the material used is based on synthetic glues developed by researchers which are similar to a specialized adhesive produced by oysters. The “Break the Grid” project envisions underwater 3D printing ROVs that can mix this glue with ocean floor sands. This combination would create a wet-setting binder used for printing artificial reef structures that can protect the coasts while providing vital habitats for marine life.
The third and final global challenge addressed heat and energy loss due to aging high-rise buildings, especially in major cities. Many existing facades require better insulation or repair to prevent further degradation and energy loss. The research team explored the combination of high-performing polymers and glass to create new thermal insulation for old buildings. With drone-like 3D printing robots, they can fly to older high-rise buildings and fill those thermal bridges. These would result in lower labor costs, less human interaction, and can lead to a more efficient material-based solution.