3D printed construction is starting to become a fully-fledged industry, with multiple methods of 3D printing buildings being developed across the world. While most focus on large gantry systems for extruding concrete into three-dimensional shapes, we’ve also seen tiny robots do the printing. Now, researchers from Cornell University and Jenny Sabin Studio have invented a new method for building large structures in 3D. It involves 3D printed, interlocking blocks that the researchers call PolyBricks.
Enormous gantry systems may be difficult to transport, though not entirely impossible, given the size of construction vehicles, and the family of Minibuilder robots would still require a separate system for implementing steel support beams to prevent a concrete structure from collapsing. PolyBricks are ceramic bricks that are similar to cinder blocks, but don’t require any mortar. Examining the techniques in wood joinery, the researchers use a tapered dovetail shape to lock the bricks to one another and ensure structural integrity.
3D printing the PolyBricks on a powder-based ZCorp 510 3D printer with a custom clay recipe, the bricks can ultimately reduce the amount of waste, labor, and cost of construction. 3D printing, as is well established, requires less material to build up a part than traditionally manufacturing. At the same time, the PolyBricks can be hollow, reducing their overall weight, and more intricately shaped, lending themselves to be used in uniquely designed buildings. The researchers explain, in a report discussing the project, that the technique may have some advantages over traditional building and even proposed ideas for large scale 3D construction:
Current 3D printing technology limits the size at which one can build. Using a component – based system, part to whole relationships and geometric specificity in terms of local orientation, we have generated a series of digital tools that allow us to create large – scale objects from a smaller print bed. Using computational design techniques, we have built a series of custom digital tools to facilitate the embedding of multiple data sets. Many wall systems require an array of materials and a significant level of human labor to construct. Our system operates using only a single material and can be put together simply and easily. The development of human large – scale 3D-printed assemblies is difficult using current 3D printing technology and those systems that can print at the human and building scales frequently exhibit very low resolution in terms of mesh fineness.
The group behind the project has yet to assemble a building with their PolyBricks, but their concept has great potential. Forget 3D printed shoes, this year is shaping up to be the year of 3D printed buildings!