Nov.23, 2014 | By Alec

If you were forced to describe the material state of a 3D printed object, would you call it solid? I would; after all, the whole point of most types of 3D printers is turning molten or grainy materials into new, solid shapes. But Dutch designer Roos Meerman shows us that 3D printed objects don't need to remain sturdy, solid and unchanging objects at all.

Her Aera Fabrica project has just won the New Material Fellow award at the Dutch New Material Award design competition. This competition is an initiative of the Dutch innovation funds DOEN Foundation, the Materiaalfonds and Het Nieuwe Instituut, and seeks to bring futuristic designs and sustainable innovations to a larger audience. Their panel of judges picked Aera Fabrica as the winner of its New Material Fellow award just this week, out of total group of sixteen entries.

So what exactly is the deal with these 3D printable 'balloons'? Well, they're not exactly balloons, but share several important charactistics with balloon. In a nutshell, Aera Fabrica is a manufacturing technique that combines 3D printing with the traditional production methods of blow molding and glass blowing. It's a very special way to create objects that can be artistic, but also functional and cheap to produce.

Basically, 3D printing is the first stage, rather than the final stage of production, thanks to the unique characteristics of objects printed with FDM extrusion 3D printers. Anyone who has ever printed something in PLA filament knows the basics: plastic is quickly changing from liquid to solid in the aftermath of printing. But did you know it becomes flexible again when reheating it?

That is basically what Meerman does. By reheating 3D printed objects, she reshapes these into almost balloon-like objects by inserting air. These 'balloons' can be much larger than the original print, basically allowing the maker to efficiently create a very large object with just a little bit of filament.

As Meerman explained, she started exploring this method when first experimenting with stretching plastic. 'I moved to seeing the plastic form as a balloon that you can blow up. By heating up the balloon, it is made flexible and can be transformed. Cooling it, solidifies the form again.'

Her own motivation is all about mechanically manipulating natural phenomena, like introducing air to a malleable material. 'The way natural forces create organic forms is highly intriguing, as are the innate properties materials have. I give space to knots in wood, shades of colour in leather, bubbles in glass and the collapse and contraction of porcelain to create unique materials and products.' And PLA material, because of its biodegradable properties, proved to be the perfect printing filament for Meerman to experiment with.

But Aera Fabrica is more than just seeing what happens when you blow air into plastic, as she Meerman is able to manipulate the results of the final object carefully, though not revealing exactly how she does it. 'In contrast with the glassblowing technique, with Aera Fabrica I determine the form before the inflating process, which allows me to more influence on the final form.' This way, objects can be designed with a purpose that isn't just artistic.

Obviously, this technique is very intriguing and could have a ton of potential. Not only could it result in very unique shapes, Aera Fabrica will doubtlessly also produce objects with very thin layers that would otherwise be difficult to create.

Fortunately, the New Material Fellow award will allow Meerman to spend the next six months expanding her research at the Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, where she will receive all the material and practical assistance needed to work on practical applications of her unique 3D printed manufacturing technique. We're very curious to see its results, so more will doubtlessly follow.

Posted in 3D Printing Applications


Maybe you also like:


Leave a comment:

Your Name:


Subscribe us to Feeds twitter facebook   

About provides the latest news about 3D printing technology and 3D printers. We are now seven years old and have around 1.5 million unique visitors per month.

News Archive