Southern California Institute of Architecture in Los Angeles has developed a technique of using a robotic arm that prints 3D structures in a tank of gel. The robot arm was developed by a masters student and allows freeform printing without the need for support structures. This means that potentially a “undo” function can be added to remove errors.
Liquid resin deposited by the robot is supported by the gel support while it hardens, whereas current 3D printing technologies need to print support structures at the same as the objects themselves to prevent collapsing.
The institutes 3D printing technology also allows for vector-based printing, which means the print head can move in three dimensional planes rather than building objects from thin two dimensional layers.
“By injecting and suspending light-curing resin in a gelatinous medium, one is afforded the ability to shape freeform objects without the need for molds or other subtractive manufacturing processes that would otherwise be necessary,” explains Brian Harms, the man behind the 3D printing process.
Resin from the printer is injected through a needle-like print head attached to the robotic arm and then is hardened when exposed to light. Once the object is finished and removed from the gel, it can be reused.
Harms’ freeform printer isn’t a first though, earlier in the year Petr Novikov and Saša Jokić from Bar Barcelona’s Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia, along with designer Joris Laarman from the Netherlands developed a freeform printer that used a process called ”anti-gravity object modelling”.
Here is what Harms had to say about the new 3D printing process:
“This project aims to blur the line between processes of design and fabrication in the context of rapid prototyping by increasing the fluidity of the fabrication process through coordinated material and robotic processes. The project exploits feedback loops that allow the process to be used as a live generative form-finding tool as well as a method for reification of designed objects.
By injecting and suspending light-curing resin in a gelatinous medium, one is afforded the ability to shape freeform objects without the need for molds or other subtractive manufacturing processes that would otherwise be necessary. The gel acts as an omnidirectional support material which is reusable, so there is no wasted material.
One major distinction between this project and other rapid prototyping processes is the ability to utilize 3D vector-based toolpaths. Virtually all other processes use paths generated via contouring a digital model, and rely on the hardening of each successive layer before being able to move on to the next.
The suspension of resin in space without added support material allows for the ability to navigate and fabricate directly on and around other existing objects within the Gel, as well as the ability to observe the process from any angle. The suspension of time in this process allows for tool changes, manual injections, on-the-fly robotic injections, multi-material injections, live modification of the digital or physical model, and the ability to physically “undo” (resin removal via suction or scooping).
Special thanks to Peter Testa, Brandon Kruysman, Jonathan Proto, Devyn Weiser, and Kyle and Liz Von Hassln.
SCI-Arc Fall 2012
Testa Vertical ESTm Studio
Instructor: Peter Testa / Brandon Kruysman / Jonathan Proto
AT: Peter Vikar
Project Lead: Brian Harms (nstrmnt.com)
Project Team: Haejun Jung / Vince Huang / Yuying Chen