Dec 18, 2014 | By Simon

So far we've seen structures as large as houses and cars being 3D printed... so its safe to say that the future is bright for 3D printed objects that are larger than the print bed of a MakerBot or even a Shapeways-certified industrial SLS printer.

But what about DIY solutions?

The Sky Printer is an adaptable, cable-based delta-gantry system that is capable of printing large objects with a minimal footprint. When compared to the printers that have created the aforementioned houses and car, this opens up a lot of possibilities for those with minimal space to spare.

Designed for large-scale applications in potentially remote locations, the creators have called the Sky Printer an "evolution of the conventional 3D printer."

The design team, which consists of architecture students Thomas Monro and Taole Chen of the California College of Arts in San Francisco, was developed this past fall for their Creative Architecture Machines Advanced Studio course.

With the goal of being a truly-adaptable 3D printer, the Sky Printer aims to solve the following design problems in the additive manufacturing space:

  • minimal material costs: compared to conventional 3d-printers and CNC-routers, the Sky Printer doesn't need a platform, it hijacks existing structures and topography to construct its own coordinates system. Thus, it can scale up effortlessly without adding exponential material costs relative to its size.
  • minimal maintenance: mechanical parts are minimized, therefore possibilities of failure are minimized. Also, it has the potential to be remote-controlled, allowing it to be deployed in hard to access locations.
  • ability to print on uneven surfaces
  • adaptability: We see tons of possible applications, as the adaptable system allows it to be set up in any environment with vertical surfaces, such as mining pits, abandoned cities, canyons, mars, etc

For the course, Monro and Chen focused primarily on using clay as a method to test their system, however they see its applications extending beyond printing and into an exchangeable tool system that would include grapplers, drills, spades and analysis tools, among others.

As for the design, Monro and Chen wanted to create an easy to replicate system that they shared on Instructables so that interested designers, engineers and hackers can take the design further.

As for their original Sky Printer concept, aside from the outer structure, the majority of the components that make up the design are 3D prints themselves. Among other pieces that are 3D printed are the toolhead and the winch casing, which Monro and Chen designed themselves after experimenting with what worked and didn't work.

After setting up their initial support structure, the system was built off of the commonly-used TinyG platform, wired up and calibrated to ensure that the intended results printed as desired.

As for the clay, that proved to be a challenge in itself.

"We are in a love-hate-relationship with clay-printing," they mention on the Instructables page. "The results are beautiful when they succeed, but the complexities of the material make it a very challenging project to tackle."

The challenges are to be expected, as clay is not known to be an easy material to with even when used with just your hands. Among one of the more challenging aspects of the project was finding the perfect clay recipe.

"We are absolutely clueless regarding the optimal composition of clay and found a working formula by trial and error, and with a lot of help from others who came before us," they added. "We also used a measuring cup, which measures volume, whereas clay is usually measured in weight. But it worked."

As far as the final results, Monro and Chen would like to improve upon their experiments and create a system that is more automated for consumers. Among other features that they see being improved on include stabilizing the components, improving the clay material recipe, additional uses for the tool head and the potential for using the machine's blueprints for larger structure-sized architectural purposes.

You can check out the project in-full, including all of the files for creating your own, over at Instructables.



Posted in 3D Printers


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Tom McBaum wrote at 12/19/2014 4:40:07 AM:

Eww. What's with the creepy larvae at the end of the video?

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