Additive manufacturing. That’s the industrial term for three-dimensional (3D) printing, or making three dimensional solid objects from a digital file. In layman terms, a.k.a. according to Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/3D_printing): In 3D printing, “additive” processes are used, in which successive layers of material are laid down under computer control. These objects can be of almost any shape or geometry, and are produced from a 3D model or other electronic data source. A 3D printer is a type of industrial robot.
The concept isn’t new. 3D printing has been a topic conversation since the 1980s. However, on September 23, 2015, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) unveiled a fully printed building to kick off Industry Day. Headed by Roderick Jackson, PhD, a multidisciplinary team including the University of Tennessee–ORNL Governor’s Chair, ORNL researchers, and architects from Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the printed building, dubbed the “Additive Manufacturing Integrated Energy,” or “AMIE” project, is a single-room module incorporating vacuum insulated panels into a 3D printed shell. ORNL hopes the structure will launch the discussion of building technologies out of the analog and into the digital age.
So… what does this have to do with tape? Implications across the construction industry are vast. The ability to generate an entire wall assembly in factory means the ability to avoid workmanship errors. The complete wall can also be fine-tuned to individual specifications with ease. 3D printing brings the capacity for “mass customization,” as computer settings can be easily adjusted at each printing.
Indeed, rather than having their role reduced, tapes may benefit from additive manufacturing as they gain access to a wider material range and factory-controlled installation conditions. While ORNL’s building structure is courtesy an innovative carbon-polymer material, 3D printers can and will print with almost any source material, opening up new sources for tapes and adhesives.
“Can we leverage science? Can we shorten the innovation cycle?” asks Dr. Jackson. “3D printing is exciting as it speeds the innovation cycle speeds dramatically; we can draw up a design and print it in hours, and can test its fit, form, and structure.”
Additive manufacturing offers a new strategy, one which may just enable us to rapidly innovate, to design, and to go from concept to reality in less than a year. It’s a trend worth watching.
Where do you think this technology will have an impact?