ArchitectureMass Customization

A digital workflow for designing tailored 3D printed acoustic panels

TU Delft, Materialise and partners develop customizable acoustic solution

Designing an interior space is more than just coming up with the size and form of rooms: to really build an environment for human-use other elements must be taken into account, like sound. Acoustics play an integral role in how humans experience a space, whether it’s a concert arena, restaurant or even their own home. Acoustic panels, which can help absorb unwanted sound waves, are traditionally made from fabric and wood, foam or high-density fiberglass. The acoustic panels of the future, however, could very well be crafted using 3D printing.

A multidisciplinary team headed by the architecture department at TU Delft in the Netherlands is exploring the use of additive manufacturing for the design and production of customized acoustic panels. These panels, tailored to a given space, could help create a more user-friendly environment in large multi-use spaces, such as concert halls or sports arenas.

The research project, called “ADAM: Acoustics by parametric Design and Additive Manufacturing”, was advanced with the help of a user committee made up of companies from a range of industries. Among them was Materialise, a Belgium-based leader in additive manufacturing, which provided support for the production of the panels. The ADAM project is funded by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research.

TU Delft 3D printed acoustic panels

The overall goal of the project was to develop acoustic panels that could be tailored to spaces to block out certain ambient frequencies and echoes. 3D printing was central to the project because of its ability to produce a practically limitless set of geometries as well as its propensity for mass customization. Further, AM enabled the team to create panels that were aesthetically interesting and could be installed as is.

“We use additive manufacturing because of its potential to produce a large variety of complex shapes,” elaborated Michela Turrin, Associate Professor of Design Informatics at TU Delft. “It gives a lot of freedom in the complexity of the geometry, but it also enables production to be made in unique pieces that are not necessarily based on industrial repetition.”

The panels are designed using a special digital workflow developed by the TU Delft team which gives designers, architects and engineers the tools to create custom 3D printable panels optimized for acoustic performance. The panel structures, for their part, consist of a series of tubes integrated into a curved panel or freestanding form, which provide Passive Destructive Interference to effectively cancel out specific frequencies. According to the research team, the tube-based designs are especially good at blocking out lower frequency ranges generated by heavy machinery or airplanes.

“The results are really promising, especially when it comes to lower frequencies and the reduced thickness of the applied materials,” said researcher Foteini Setaki. “We are hoping that we will be able, very soon, to launch a ready product that can enter the construction industry market.”

Once the panels are designed, they can then be manufactured using 3D printing. In its own demonstration, the team worked with Materialise to print the panels using selective laser sintering (SLS), which provided a cost-effective solution for creating the puzzle-like pieces.

“As 3D printing experts, we are there to empower our customers to build their solutions,” said Toon Roels, Director Process Engineering and Quality at Materialise. “When we work with others in collaborations such as this one, it’s our mission to ensure that the project incorporates the full value of AM to accomplish its goal.”

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Tess Boissonneault

Tess Boissonneault is a Montreal-based content writer and editor with five years of experience covering the additive manufacturing world. She has a particular interest in amplifying the voices of women working within the industry and is an avid follower of the ever-evolving AM sector. Tess holds a master's degree in Media Studies from the University of Amsterdam.

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