Singapore: AirMesh Project Tests 3D Printed Functional Space Frames

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Felix Raspall, Carlos Banon, and Jenn Chong Tay, researchers at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, explore 3D printing with metal for space frame components and structures. Their research and new contributions in AM processes are presented in the recently published paper ‘Stainless steel printing for functional space frames.’

As 3D printing and additive manufacturing become more accessible, affordable, and streamlined, it offers enormous potential to a wide range of applications—with architecture at the top of the list. The team created a lightweight metal table for as an example of a space frame with a ‘promising structural topology.’ Their research focuses on large scale printing, as well as different additive manufacturing methods capable of producing good mechanical strength—commonly found in metal 3D printing.

The authors point out that so far, most previous research for using AM in 3D printed architecture has been limited—and most tend to be angling for the greater affordability/larger build volume advantages. The study, referred to as AIRTable, is centered around fabricating strong connections able to endure rigorous loading conditions—but in the form of furniture.

“The main objective was to test how AM can enable the design and fabrication of complex parts and intricate connection details which are then used to assemble structural systems of complex geometry through mechanical connections,” stated the researchers. “The methodology covers all stages in the design and manufacturing process, using a single demonstrative project to advance associative modeling, connection detailing design, part manufacturing, assembly and load testing.”

The table is an impressive work of art, created in the shape of an equilateral triangle, with the following features:

  • 3m along the sides
  • Thin, hollow stainless-steel bars of 6mm diameter connected by 84 metal 3D-printed nodes
  • Table top with a white, translucent Corian tabletop

Table assembly in progress

Metal was chosen to give both strength and rigidity to the table, with the 84 nodes 3D printed with 420 stainless steel. The project, while successful, did require a lead time of around a month.

“Once the nodes and bars have been fabricated, they were then threaded with clockwise and anti-clockwise threads on their respective ends,” stated the researchers. “The table top is made of white Corian which was chamfered and the bottom hollowed out using a 6-axis CNC Router. It was then filled with a lighter material, plywood, to reduce the weight of the table. The weight of the table top was estimated to be approximately 90kg. Its white translucent appearance confers the desired illusion of lightness despite its stiffness, which aided in the stability of the table.”

Once the table and legs were assembled, they were leveled with spacers 3D printed in PLA.

“The results demonstrate that AM can be successfully used to produce complex and detailed elements in architecture, and open new paths for designers to deal with complex geometries where lightness, continuity and sleekness play an important role,” concluded the authors. “The resulting hyper-redundant structure is not only structurally functional, but also reinforces a narrative of lightness, both conceptually and literally. The complexity of the project was successfully managed through an associative model that automatically validates the structural performance, produces each node geometry and connection detail.

“In carrying out the AIRMesh project, we hope to further the research into this method of creating space frame systems, bringing it closer to a fully realised architectural project.”

Node with spacer spray painted matte black and fixed to table top.

3D printing in metal is extremely popular with industrial users today, and stainless steel has been used in projects spanning everything from bioprinting to ventures into new alloys to the fabrication of larger scale items like scooters. What do you think of this news? Let us know your thoughts! Join the discussion of this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com.

[Source / Images: ‘Stainless steel printing for functional space frames’]

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