Greater use of 3D printing technology is being explored by architect firm Foster + Partners.
The company is looking into the potential of metal-based 3D printing using additive and subtractive manufacturing processes that will enable production within a short timeframe.
Foster + Partners was an early adopter of 3D printing and rapid prototyping technology – having bought its first 3D printer in 2004, it was one of the first architectural practices to invest heavily in the technology.
In 2014, the Lunar Habitation project, designed with a consortium set up by the European Space Agency, explored the possibilities of remote 3D printing on the moon, an approach that has been further developed for a similar project on Mars.
For a number of years, Foster + Partners has also been involved with Loughborough University and other consortium partners in bringing large-scale 3D concrete printing technology to market.
The LASIMM project (Large Additive Subtractive Integrated Modular Machine) seeks to develop large scale and flexible all-in-one hybrid machines that will enable the production of building components (or components for aerospace, energy, and transport sectors) directly from CAD models.
The machine will feature a configuration of industrial robot arms and a specialised milling robot – the first for rapid arc weld deposition of aluminium, steel, and titanium into a shape, and the second for machining away surplus material to provide the final finish.
This process would enable the building industry to move away from standardised components and towards bespoke solutions for every building. It would also mean that these components could be produced within a reduced timeframe at a fraction of the cost.