Tiling dates back to both the ancient Greeks and Romans who would design their homes with artistic color and clay. Similar to how the Greeks decorated their floors with colorful tiles, now architects and designers can do the same with 3D printed ones. Present day architects and floor designers take pride in their flooring and tiling designs, and 3D printing of flooring provides revolutionizing opportunities for companies to design their own flooring. Companies such as manufacturers, architects, designers and specifiers that are involved in 3D printing of flooring and tiles are eligible for R&D tax credits which are available to stimulate innovation.
The Research and Development Tax Credit
Enacted in 1981, the now permanent Federal Research and Development (R&D) Tax Credit allows a credit that typically ranges from 4%-7% of eligible spending for new and improved products and processes. Qualified research must meet the following four criteria:
- Must be technological in nature
- Must be a component of the taxpayers business
- Must represent R&D in the experimental sense and generally includes all such costs related to the development or improvement of a product or process
- Must eliminate uncertainty through a process of experimentation that considers one or more alternatives
Eligible costs include US employee wages, cost of supplies consumed in the R&D process, cost of pre-production testing, US contract research expenses, and certain costs associated with developing a patent.
On December 18, 2015, President Obama signed the PATH Act, making the R&D Tax Credit permanent. Beginning in 2016, the R&D credit can be used to offset Alternative Minimum tax for companies with revenue below $50MM and for the first time, pre-profitable and pre-revenue startup businesses can utilize the credit against $250,000 per year in payroll taxes.
Floor Material Developments
Choosing the right type of flooring is essential for any business. For instance, chemical testing labs and similar facilities require flooring that is chemically resistant. When specifying a laboratory floor, it is important to know the types of concentrations of chemicals that the floor may potentially come in contact with. Different floor types feature varying tolerances to different chemicals. Typically, materials suitable for flooring in a laboratory environment include vinyl, ceramic, linoleum, rubber, self-leveling resin coatings and resin screed. Although still in its infancy, vinyl and linoleum flooring can be designed and 3D printed.
Chemson, the world-leading manufacturer of polymer additives, has developed the world’s first polyvinyl chloride (PVC) filament for 3D printing. PVC is the second most produced plastic by volume and is associated with many advantages due to its diverse material properties, including but not limited to cost, durability, and recyclability. These benefits can translate to 3D printed flooring. A combination of additives can be utilized to create innovative flooring that is also UV-resistant, weatherproof and fireproof.
Sand, Salt & Cement
Emerging Objects, located in the San Francisco Bay Area, is an independent, creatively driven think tank specializing in innovation related to 3D printing architecture and building components. Their team of designers and production specialists not only design and 3D print environments for the 21st century, but also provide consultation to companies seeking innovative 3D printing solutions to help catapult innovation. With an expertise in additive manufacturing material development and techniques, the small fabrication studio is able to research how to 3D print using materials such as rubber, wood, ceramic, concrete and salt.
According to Emerging Objects Co-Founder Ronald Rael, “We saw a limitation in what a machine can make because of the medium, and so we wondered if we could reformulate that media to suit our own architectural agendas to print big.”
The company has since taken a vested interest in powder printing technologies and developing new 3D printable materials. Moreover, the Emerging Objects team has focused on using its design process to create building tiles that could help absorb sound, insulate a building, aid in water collection and allow for integrated sensors. In a 2013 case study, the design team demonstrated the feasibility of fabricating a 3D printed house using a combination of traditional construction methods and 3D printed manufacturing.
Aectual is changing the way floors are being designed and fabricated with their sustainable 3D printed terrazzo floors. Recycled bio-plastic material is utilized to create the frameworks of the each custom design before a mixture of granite or marble composite is poured into the remaining spaces. The printable bio-plastic material is made of plants and can be entirely recycled back into the print cycle, creating a zero waste process. The flooring is ideal for locations such as airports, retail spaces and museums because it is able to withstand heavy foot traffic while maintaining an elegant finish.
A zero-waste production is made possible in part by the incorporation of robotics and software. The company employs a large robot with six-axis movement capabilities that are mounted on a track. Coupled with state-of-the-art software that combines parametric design, engineering and digital manufacturing constraints, the extruder is able to make a framework for the design, all at just a few centimeters in height.
Arizona Home Floors, a tile manufacturer located in Arizona, uses machines that remove flooring without leaving any dust behind. Company founder Jack King developed a chipping hammer tool called the DustRam and improved its design by way of additive manufacturing. Deficiencies included an exhaustive and costly manufacturing process, as well as ergonomic shortcomings related to the weight of the handheld machine.
Rather than designing and manufacturing expensive molds to produce a lighter, plastic version of the product, Michael Hadley, the company’s lead engineer, suggested first developing a 3D printed prototype. Printed in 50 hours as a single piece of nylon, the cost time and labor savings were significant. Not only was the prototype 9 pounds lighter, testing in the field revealed that the product was able to operate for a full six months before the nose deteriorated, further promoting the idea of expanding the line without investing in a mold at all. Today, the company prints small volumes of the DustRam in-house on their Stratasys Fortus 450mc and continues to make quick adjustments to the product design as needed.
Moisture Barriers & Waterproofing
A crucial aspect when laying laminate flooring in bathrooms is to avoid leaks and excess moisture build-up by first waterproofing the floor. Materials such as high density polyethylene or thermoplastic can be used to 3D print moisture barriers for such projects, as well as in rooms with high moisture content.
Durmaplast, a leading manufacturer and supplier of sustainable cladding for walls, ceilings and floors, produces water-resistant flooring that can withstand extreme humidity as an alternative to traditional laminate or LVT flooring. Intended for wet rooms and bathrooms, Finesse Floor is an innovative concept of modular flooring that combines the benefits of laminate and vinyl with 3D printing.
3D printing has become an emergent technology in architecture and it is taking new directions, including flooring applications. However, new material developments are still in the works. 3D printing of both tiles and flooring provides opportunities for not only complete customization, but overall process improvement during the design and installation phases. Architects, software specialists, engineers, concept developers and builders who are engaged in technical activities involving 3D printing of flooring and tiling are eligible for R&D tax credits.
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Charles Goulding, Alize Margulis and Lara Tomiko of R&D Tax Savers discuss 3D printed flooring.