It has been quite a lot of years since I have first seen applications of 3D Printing. It was during a Salone del Mobile in Milan, and, at that time, I was blown away by the variety of ideas behind this new technology. From printed bricks to furniture, up to “hand-printed” items and structures realised with pens.
Last week we touched again on 3D Printing, or Additive Manufacturing (AM) when talking about sustainability in our 5 Top Materials for a Sustainable Interior in 2022 article. We talked about Materialise, a specialised company that developed a new material that recycles 100% of the waste powder from the printing process creating a more sustainable option for AM.
3D Printing by now has become one of the most important (or at least full of potential) technologies for countless industries, and this includes also real estate, architecture, and interior design. As far as interior design goes, different companies have developed bricks, entire structures, and even pieces of furniture using it.
So, I would like to talk about its different applications in Interior Design. Its benefits and potential drawbacks in this use case, so that you can decide by yourself if it is or not the solution for you to use it for your next commercial project, or home renovation.
The first and probably most common use of 3D printing in interior design is to create furniture. This option, over traditional methods, has some obvious advantages that come to mind right away.
3D Printing is cheaper. Especially in the long run, while initially, it can be capital-intensive, due to all the machinery requirements, after that, both raw materials and manufacturing are going to be much cheaper than other options. And this is something that regards every AM application, not just the furniture development. The design and production process is also more energy-efficient and sustainable.
Secondly, it is extremely flexible. Every piece of design requires a certain degree of artistry. The actual creation of a complex piece might require some proper artisan’s handcraft. 3D printing, on the other hand, allows the creation of extremely complex shapes all through the machine. Even more so, nowadays, algorithms sometimes developed with artificial intelligence, are capable of creating very complex, yet extremely resistant and efficient structures mimicking the laws of nature. For the same reason, bespoke designs can also be realised more easily.
A great example here is the work of product designer Lilian van Daal, created manually in 3D software. Her work, which at times involves the use of algorithms too
bridges the natural and the artificial - or designed - world. She experiments with innovative technologies and materials in order to meticulously mimic nature. With the resulting objects she aspires to reveal nature’s rich library of solutions. The emphasis is on the imitation and adjustment of structures to optimize production methods in a sustainable way
Other benefits of AM can be less straightforward. It could be a way to “democratise” design. Thanks to the most cost-efficient production, specific pieces of design could become more affordable. Secondly, it could also help with pieces modularity, since each component can be reproduced easily.
There are still some question marks though.
First, 3D-printed items, unless they are of very high quality, in some instances still look unfinished or rough around the edges. Secondly, even though as mentioned there is research going on, recycling still represents an issue. Often plastic and other synthetic materials waste are not recycled completely, or, according to Lilian van Daal, using different materials for a 3d-printed piece of furniture makes recycling much more difficult when it comes to separating the different elements, and can get pretty expensive.
3D Printing is a trend in real estate as well. Today is possible to print houses, and in a more cost-effective and less time-consuming way than ever before.
These are usually realised through materials such as cement and glass fibre. Here too, there is constant research for sustainable materials obtained from waste recycling. And companies such as Chinese WinSun already boast a high percentage of recycled materials and aim at a significant energy consumption reduction.
Another important advantage of AM is that contributes to the modular construction industry, which as we discussed in our article Modular Construction: How to develop efficiently has a huge potential and is increasingly popular in every segment of the construction sector. Specifically, 3D Printing allows for off-site production, which is one important advantage of every modular construction, reducing on-site construction time and costs.
AM in real estate is naturally much more complex than single pieces printing, so when it comes to obstacles at the moment there are some that cannot be avoided. One is that according to RealEstate Agent we are not able (yet) to print plumbing and wall insulation, but “only” the outer structure. So, while the presence of specialised contractors is still required, even the possibility to print the walls represents a huge advantage in terms of time and cost-saving, and the labour necessary will also be significantly less.
All in all, both in construction and design, 3D Printing is constantly changing the industry. The innovative projects are numerous and they contribute to opening up new possibilities with efficient and sustainable solutions. We will follow up with more on this interesting topic and look closely at this space.
*Cover photos by Lilian van Daal
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