3D Printing On A Much Larger Scale

The end goal of this giant rapid prototyping machine is to print buildings. We’re not holding our breath for a brand new Flintstones-esque abode, but their whimsical suggesting of printed buildings on the moon seems like science fiction with potential. The machine operates similar to a RepRap but instead of plastic parts, it prints stone by binding sand with epoxy. This method is not revolutionary, but hasn’t really been seen in applications larger than a square meter or so. It’s fun to see the things we dabble in heading for industrial production applications.

[Thanks Juan]

44 thoughts on “3D Printing On A Much Larger Scale

  1. Very cool. I’m sure it’s very far off, but I love the idea of every household having a smaller unit than this, but bigger than a traditional reprap. Use it to make furniture, dinnerware, cubicle walls etc……

    Or I could be completely wrong :)

  2. this is very awsome! Really want to build a 3D printer of some sort. Ive got loads of stepper from intelligent lighting fixtures but no idea hole to control them simply, other than using the DMX board in the light, any ideas?

  3. @groovenstien – I’m working on building my own LED movers from some old stepper motors and some RGB LEDS. I’ve been using an arduino for right now, until I can actually get the thing built, then I’ll use a different type of microcontroller to run the thing. To control the stepper, you’ll need to know how many coils/wires it has and you’ll need either an H-Bridge or possibly a Darlington Array. I’d be more than happy to answer some questions for ya, just drop me an email at tonytuba(at)aim(dot)com. I’m also curious what lights those steppers came out of :)

  4. @lowlysoundtech Yep i have a couple of darlington arrays after crossing some wires on flying leads! Steppers are mostly 4 wire some are six, they came from 1 Genius Motor Spot, 1 showtech polar scan and the other one i cant remember.

  5. Hmm, i get this error in chrome:

    Warning: Visiting this site may harm your computer!
    The website at http://www.blueprintmagazine.co.uk contains elements from the site iasitvlife.ro, which appears to host malware – software that can hurt your computer or otherwise operate without your consent. Just visiting a site that contains malware can infect your computer.

  6. @groovenstien – the 4 wire is more than likely a 2 coil motor and u’ll need an H-Bridge, the 6 wire could be 2 coil, but with separate power ins. Here’s a great page with lots of examples of circuits and even some code for various microcontrollers.


    Definitely read the opening section regarding IDing your stepper because that 6 wire could also be a unipolor stepper. Shoot me an email if you got any other questions so we can keep the comment trolls at bay. :)

  7. Interesting idea – using this to build structures on the moon. Kind of makes sense, since doing manual labor on the moon would be pretty tough. It would have to be proven to be pretty sturdy though!

    And @walt – fluid structures make sense for this kind of device, since they are more difficult to do with traditional methods. Anyone can make a rectangular shed, but the benefit of these devices is that they can make more interesting shapes!

  8. Hey, i just realized – since this guy is using sand as his base medium – what about using a laser to fuse the sand into glass? That is probably not as easy as it sounds i guess, or else we’d have seen it… right?

    Anyone know?

  9. I love stuff like this, but would rather see them work with standard cement rather than special epoxies which are more likely to be expensive. Also, as far a moon structured go, I tend to like the idea of inflatable, aramid (kevlar-like materials), lunar buildings/space stations. They’re massively lighter than solid construction solutions. If you need thicker walls for things like radiation shielding, you just design them with a large space between double walls and fill the space with loose lunar fill (or build them in a deep hole like an impact crater.

  10. @nave.notnilc I have no problem with them having advertisements, but they need to figure out ways to ensure those ads are not malware. It kind of defeats the purpose of having ads if no one goes to your site because your browser detects malware.

  11. @lowlysoundtech – agreed. I am really starting out in this area, so would really use this to build a working concept that would probably just about “cut cheese” – then I would begin the spending.

    So far my best source of parts has been from printers and scanners but these a baby ones.

  12. Forgot to mention, the inflatable buildings for lunar bases and space stations are being developed by Nasa and Bigelow Aaerospace. The most interesting, in the short term, being Bigelow’s efforts. The company’s founder is the owner/founder of one of the biggest chains of hotels in the US. His primary goal for his space station designs are to create a commercially owned and operated orbital hotel in the next few decades. He’s already launched scale sized prototypes and will be launching a full-sized prototype soon.

  13. I’m curious if this will lead to stronger infrastructures of buildings – if you can print some sort of network of support beams otherwise impossible in normal structures?

    On a different scale… would this revolutionize how small towns/villages are built?

  14. @localroger
    Yeah, I’m aware of SLS, I just hadn’t seen it done with glass. Given how cheap sand is, I just kinda wondered if it could be used for SLS. I didn’t see any results really on using glass for that.

  15. One interesting offshoot of having a fullsize house/building “3D printed” is that you could also do a perfect scale-accurate dollhouse sized version without much trouble.

  16. @Taylor the wikipedia article on SLS mentions glass as one of the typical SLS materials. I think the main problem would be making sure the glass absorbs the laser energy and heats up to sintering temperature. Might be more of a problem with sand than with glass powder (sand is actually crystalline, and at micro scale has lots of flat surfaces and is surprisingly clear.)

  17. Ad for glass, what is currently going on is the traditional 3D printing with an organic binder mixed with the glass powder (think powdered sugar/cornstarch etc) – the liquid ink makes the binder “glue” the glass particles together.

    Then the item is removed from the printer and fired in a kiln to fuse it. The biggest hurdle is slumping and the ~25% shrinkage that occurs (which can be catered for, but needs research to fine tune).

    Lots about it here: http://open3dp.me.washington.edu/?p=20

    and they have an open source approach to the materials and research! yay!

  18. The various Solid Print tech paths all have their situational Pro/Con points. Scaling factors interacting differently for material/technology choices will make some projects truly Non-Trivial to design. That is, till we climb a horridly non linear learning curve. The path from RepStrap to printing whole houses will be damned interesting. And likely potentially disruptive to several economic niches. A formless curb caster can make a house from concrete slurry cast into stacked “Rings” right now with only minor hacking of the gear.

    Some of us grew up reading SF stories where a “Matter Duplicator” turned stuff like Martian sand into fully furnished houses complete with stocked freezers. And of course- a home model duplicator with 2 sets of charged batteries :)

    I’d settle for spraycrete over robotically laser welded rebar today.

  19. @lowlysoundtech : printing furniture is actually a very good idea. This is the first time I write about an actually possibly profitable production for a 3D printing machine : it can be customized a lot, doesn’t need much articulated part neither various different materials. Is there a material that is printable and sturdy enough for this usage ?

  20. @James: thanks for that link, I was digging through all my bookmarks/history to find it. I think that technology holds more promise for architecture, as it doesn’t require you to clean up the support structure (sand) afterward. I suspect the technology mentioned in this blog post will be more useful for art than architecture.

  21. @grovensien – ah, I see my Google powers are failing me once again – cheers.

    Out of interest do you happen to have any of the model numbers/part numbers for one of the steppers you salvaged. I want to compare the datasheet for it against the stuff I have got to see if it is worth picking up some old DMX lights.

  22. @MRE – Or even better yet…. adult sized playground equipment!

    @lv – I’ve been playing around with Shapelock lately, which is essentially a thermoplastic with a rather low state change temperature. It’s great for prototyping and it’s rather cheap and surprisingly fun to play. Check it out.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.