A Very Cool 3D Printing Technology

This isn’t particularly fashion related, but the underlying technology is very interesting because my personal gut instinct is that we will move more and more to different kinds of 3D printers and away from mass complex manufacturing.

Some researchers at Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC) invented a 3D printer that uses local substrate (otherwise referred to as soil) to print functional objects. The functional prototype printed several samples of structures including stools with and without supports.

The concept was to create a 3D printer that could create architecture such as shelters from the materials on site, working from a digital file. Many 3D printers require an actual 3D object to copy, so this is a step forward in that the IAAC printer uses a software file it reads to generate the output object.

Another advance forward is that the prototype has a ‘robotic arm’ that lets the printer print both vertically and horizontally – sort of like the paint robots in auto factories.

This is an exciting development for a number of reasons. As I mentioned earlier, my personal vision for apparel is to have local ‘factories’ of small 3D printers of various sorts where community members could go and have their digital files read in and output a new garment or accessory. Imagine designing a sweater and going to a local factory, booking time on a knitting machine and being able to have your design created for you on a time and materials basis.  You the consumer would no longer be paying for all the related subcosts of mass development; your transportation and customs costs would be largely eradicated, especially if you used yarns and threads there were locally grown and spun.

It’s hard for consumers who don’t develop mass products to understand the ‘multiplier affect.’ But suffice it to say that just cutting out the transportation costs of overseas productions alone would have a huge impact on the environment because the quantity of oil required to transport mass-produced goods.

So even if you paid a little more for your knitting machine time, you’d ultimately end up paying less for your product; it would b ea  higher quality garment (you’d be right there watching it get printed, all eagle-eyed watching for mistakes); and you’d be doing the environment a favor since you’d be personally reducing your carbon footprint.

But before we can get to that vision, we need good, effective 3D printers. This was why the IAAC prototype is so exciting to me. It’s one more step to getting there. And if it turns out that it can in fact actually be used to print shelters for people in places where architectural build materials are difficult to get, then we’ve moved humanity forward in a big way. Way to go, IAAC researchers!