Robotic construction and exploring the limits of 3D printing with Enrico Dini

Enrico Dini, an Italian engineer who created an early 3D printer for construction, has proclaimed 3D printing ruined his life according a recent interview. However, that hasn’t stopped him from dreaming about the wonders of the technology.

Dini created the D-Shape printer back in 2005 by modifying machinery at the shoe factory where he worked, using a robotic arm to 3D print with resin and sand. The steps that Dini took following this event may have shaped the future of 3D printing, but it also ruined his marriage and financial situation. In the interview it is clear that Dini still has a wonderful imagination and it shows as he speaks about grand ideas which include 3D printing houses on the moon with lunar dust.

I am a brilliant inventor of beauty, and even though I will die in poverty, my inventions are winning ones. 

The Radiolaria, printed using Dini's machine. Image via Post Magazine
The Radiolaria, printed using Dini’s machine spurred investment. Image via Post Magazine

Dini’s early 3D printing adventure did not go smoothly. Following his eureka moment in the shoe factory Dini left his lucrative job in Rome, transfixed on making his invention a success, “When I realized that this project should be my life project I sacrificed everything.”  Re-mortgaging his house he slowly went into debt. This consequently ruined his relationship with his wife and ended in their divorce. But according to the interview, it was 2008 when Enrico had his biggest misfortune. Shortly following the offer of a $60 million investment from an Italian company, the global financial crisis struck and the deal was cancelled.

The d shape printer. Image via D-shape.
The D-shape printer its current form. Image via D-shape.

However, even this setback did not stop Dini, and he continued to press ahead despite the project continuing to eat into his limited funds.

The D-shape printer, as pictured above, was created. The world’s first construction scale 3D printer. The machine is able to print using natural materials, like sand, earth, and perhaps also lunar dust. The machine was in the news last year with plans to build a 3D printed estate in New York.

Enrico Dini next to his 3D printed creation. Image via D-shape.
Enrico Dini next to his 3D printed creation. Image via D-shape.

In response to claims of 3D printing being the new industrial revolution, Dini doesn’t conform to the hype. Instead Dini regards 3D printing as “the first industrial devolution.” He is referring to using natural materials in an organic way that is both environmentally friendly, cheap and non-polluting.” His idea was never about creating generic cheap housing for people to make money, rather,

It is about creating a more environmentally friendly system that uses less energy and less consumption than a typical building site.

3D printed underwater. Image via D-shape.
3D printed underwater. Image via D-shape.

Enrico’s plans stretch the boundaries of 3D printing applications and he wants to 3D print an ecosystem in the desert. Involving 3D printed trees and a permeable water basin, it is safe to say the Italian has ambition. “Ultimately, it is not a difficult concept,” says Dini. “All it takes is a little imagination.”

These ideas are exciting, but how do we get from here to putting them in action? Learning from the past Dini admits “It won’t be me who changes the world, it will be a bigger player.” Dini is an inspirational man and his story, though sad, shows his commitment to 3D printing. Moreover, Enrico isn’t just a dreamer. Already, 3D printed houses are taking shape, and his space mission gaining ground also with a collaboration with Foster + Partners.

I am not Mr Ford, I am not Mr Gates and I am not Mr Allen, I am just Enrico Dini, a man who has lost everything. Someone with billions will make billions out of my invention but I know I have given a message to the world of construction that is as important as the message Steve Jobs gave to the world of computation … when one night in 2004 I couldn’t sleep and I had this vision of what 3D printing could do, it was a dream of amazing shapes. A dream of beauty. Beauty, you see, is the essence of life – it is not an option, it is everything.

The full article can be read here.

Featured image of Enrico Dini via