Rethinking Building: Iterative Fabrication, Rapid Delivery, and Resilient Materials
Sci-fi or reality: a 3D-printed home powered by a solar array and 3D-printed hybrid electric vehicle? If you said fantasy, guess again.
“Moore’s Law seems to be increasingly evident in the architecture industry lately, so much so that it’s hard to keep track of all the recent groundbreaking ideas for additive manufacturing in buildings. It’s a groundswell that upends our whole history of building technology,” said Leif Eikevik (MArch ’09), a key member of the team that designed and built the Additive Manufacturing Integrated Energy (AMIE) demonstration project at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
AMIE—a home and vehicle that form their own integrated energy system of solar panels, batteries, and a hybrid motor—went from concept to demonstration in less than a year, thanks to Big Area Additive Manufacturing, a room-sized 3D printer. “What we modeled in Rhino could be printed on the BAAM that same day in a matter of hours,” Eikevik explained. This allowed them to study their prototype and adapt design elements and other details for their next iteration. “This loop of design, testing and fabrication yielded a level of adaptability not yet available via the typical methods of project design and delivery. Iterative fabrication, rapid delivery, resilient materials, optimization of complex forms—these are all innovations we saw with AMIE that the additive manufacturing process is bringing to the building industry.”
To make AMIE a reality, Oak Ridge National Laboratory convened a group of interdisciplinary partners, including Eikevik’s employer Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill. As AMIE’s technical designer, Eikevik developed the details that allowed additive manufacturing to succeed at the building scale. He also served as the architect coordinating the build and assembly. “We had incredible leadership on the team: senior partners and designers who conveyed the vision of the project while empowering the younger generation to go new places with the design.”
In addition to the clear carbon-saving benefits of renewable power generation and storage, AMIE demonstrated the sustainability potential of 3D printing. “Unlike the subtractive process of traditional building, the additive manufacturing process itself is zero waste. You only print what you need and almost nothing goes to landfill. AMIE could even be ground up and reprinted for a new use,” Eikevik noted.
He went on to explain that it is now possible to print metals, glass, concrete, and other building materials; and the industry can expect further breakthroughs that will bring down the cost of additive manufacturing fabrication and bring the process to market. Another innovation in the works? Mobile robotic printers. “Imagine a residential community able to utilize an array of mobile printing arms to fabricate an elementary school or a set of homes in a fraction of the time and cost. Imagine digital fabrication models shared between communities, customized for their individual needs.”
In short, AMIE not only shows new additive manufacturing and energy storage technologies work, but also hints at a market transformation to come.
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Photos courtesy of Oak Ridge National Lab.