What do Inkjet 3D Printing and the CN Tower have in Common?

Imagine your task is to make a model replica of a new building design. To do this you will need:

  1. Lots of cardboard, bristol board or heavy-weight paper
  2. A utility knife
  3. Glue stick
  4. Hot glue gun
  5. An architects scale
  6. Some students with plenty of free time
  7. Lots and lots of patience!

Once you have your tools you can get building. Just don't be surprised if the finished model takes days to make and is lacking some of the finer details of your initial design!

All that is long gone with the availability of inkjet-based 3D printing technology. Using ultra-fine, 16 micron layers, Objet's 3D printers can literally build your architectural models for you, in just a few short hours, using no manpower, no glue and resulting in no human errors! Walls can be printed down to 0.6mm thick (depending on their height and what they're supporting) ensuring that none of your design details are lost in translation to the final model.

Actually, architecture and 3D printing have more in common that we may think. Objet's inkjet-based 3D printing works on a similar 'additive' principle to the slipform construction method. The classic example of this is of course, the CN Tower in Toronto, which for 34 years, was the world's tallest free-standing structure. What's the connection? Slipform works by pouring liquid concrete into a base that's surrounded by a plywood containing wall. Once that layer of concrete is dry, the containing wall moves slowly up on hydraulic jacks until it's ready for the next layer of concrete to be added. The previous layer, once hard, becomes the base that supports the next layer. And so on until your structure is complete. Here's a nice time-lapse video showing the slipform process in action.  

In a similar way, inkjet-based 3D printing works by jetting a liquid photopolymer material onto a build tray. A containing wall is not needed because each layer is immediately cured by UV light making it solid enough to support the next layer that's then added on top. A few thousand layers later and you have your finished prototype. In this video you can see how the same principle works to produce fully life-like architectural models. This particular video is courtesy of Rietveld architects in New York. You can also read more about their experiences with Objet 3D printing here. Enjoy.

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