Feb 23, 2016 | By Alec

Unfortunately, 3D printing pens are rarely taken seriously by makers and designers. Though the idea is clever as these pens theoretically add a whole new dimension to prototyping, practically they’re more like cool toys. A group of students from the University of Tokyo is seeking to change that, and have developed a 3D printing pen that – with the help of acrylic rods – can actually construct large and complex architectural structures. The results are far larger than anything you could achieve on a desktop 3D printer and are even quite sturdy.

This interesting innovation has been developed by a team of students from University of Tokyo's Obuchi Laboratory, which is led by former Architectural Association course director Yusuke Obuchi. It’s all part of the Global 30 Architecture and Urbanism program, which is overseen by renowned Japanese architect Kengo Kuma. This particular building project was overseen by tutor Toshi Kiuchi, and its biggest result – a small pavilion - can currently be admired at the Ozone Gallery in Shinjuku, northwest Tokyo.

This interesting 3D printing pen enables them, as they explain, form large manual prints made from individual strings of thermoplastic filament. Drawn between acrylic rods, it enables the creation of ‘large-scale hand-drawn structures’ that even have a good structural stability, tension resistance and strength in compression. They even go as far as claiming that their structures are more durable than most 3D printed forms, without being as dense – something doubtlessly enabled by the reliance on acrylic rods. And where 3D printing pens tend to suffer from a lack of precision, they solve this by relying on a digital tracking system that guides the user while ‘drawing’.

As design team member Kevin Clement told reporters, this technology could further strengthen one crucial element in design that is being threatened by digital construction technologies: human instinct. “Technology has traditionally been used to automate and replace human labor,” he told Dezeen. “The issue with this approach is that it fails to take advantage of human intuition during fabrication. We believe our approach can bridge the current dichotomy between machine and human-made production.”

It’s also fairly easy to use. Strings of hot plastic are emitted at the squeeze of the trigger, and the digital tracking system calculates exactly where you need to go. Once cool the plastics remain quite flexible – perfect for open structures. And because size is really limited by the amount of rods you have installed, the 3D printing projects can take on a far larger size than any conventional 3D printer can. This is perfect, the team believes ,for architectural design and prototyping in any location. “What makes this system interesting for us is that the shape can be modified to match different site conditions, and it is simple to add or subtract members to the construct, allowing it to grow and adapt to user preferences,” Clement argued. “The ease of drawing together the members means that anyone can participate in the process of making complex forms at full scale.”

Crucially, it’s also a far cheaper system than a 3D printer capable of constructing large shapes, and is therefore far more likely to fit within a budget. “Large-scale printers make architectural-scale 3D-printing possible but at large expense, requiring huge gantries and controlled conditions,” Clement further argued “This means that there's not much ability for this method to be adaptable to on-site construction processes. For these reasons, the complex formalism embraced by much of the discipline has yet to become applicable to the industry beyond one-off cultural buildings and installations.”

(All images credit: Dezeen)

The only downside is that the 3D printed structures won’t last as long as what we are used to. The hanging strings lose some of their strength after about nine months, but weakening areas can easily be reinforced with new strings. The model’s durability is still being tested, for instance by exposing it to the elements. Nonetheless, it’s one of the most ambitious and inspiring 3D printing pen projects we’ve seen in a long time and it definitely opens the way for new 3D printing applications. The team has already said they are looking into more ways of democratizing the making process with their technology, for instance by inviting visitors to add to the structure themselves. Could this be the rehabilitation 3D printing pens need?

 

 

Posted in 3D Printer

 

 

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