Massive Metal 3D Printed Whale Heralds Possibilities for Large-Scale 3D Printing in Art

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Torino Italy’s Royal Gardens have delighted the citizens of the city since the 16th century. An elegant and classical open space with many trees and several palaces, it makes for a wonderful stroll in the northern Italian city. On display now, the “Animals at Court” exhibition includes many different creatures in a variety of sculptural forms. For the Whale, among the largest animals to ever have lived, Paolo Albertelli and Mariagrazia Abbaldo of Studio C&C designed “The Whale Pass.” Made with MX3D‘s wire arc additive manufacturing (WAAM) metal 3D printing technology, the 880-kilo sculpture shows the fins of whales passing through the park emerging from the ground as if it were the open seas.

Albertelli said of his work:

“The humpback whales we encountered in Tonga while diving were lost in the depths of the sea, their dark backs resembling a metal, burnished stainless steel or a liver-patinated bronze. Movements, sinuous twists, made one perceive the white belly streaked with black. The impression was that of the softness of a modelled marble. The work develops following a deconstructive declination.

The installation of the whales is a project that I have always imagined in large parks because it transforms the horizon line with the imaginary depth of what cannot be seen. The backs of the whales resting on the lawn emerge from the earth. The rhythm of the puffs and of the whistles are different from each other, sudden, cross diagonally: they evoke the breath, the calm path of living semi-hidden presences. It is a space for an imaginary outside the rules of the usual paths.”

WAAM for 3D Printed Metal Art

One application that has excited people since the very beginnings of WAAM has been art and design objects made with the technology. Industrial enthusiasts may consider art and design to be a mere distraction from additive manufacturing’s (AM) true potential, but, given the scale of the objects and the excitement around 3D printing, as well as the possibilities for it, this is one application that has legs.

There are many thousands of municipal art projects worldwide. If we look at traditional bronze casting methods for a certain scale, traditional manufacturing processes are very laborious and even cost prohibitive. There are also some limitations to investment and other casting technologies. In many cases, WAAM and other large-scale metal 3D printing may actually be cheaper than alternatives. This is especially true if we’re looking at items that are several meters in length. A lot of artists are now working at the intersection of the digital and real, so to translate their graphic art into a physical object via AM is an attractive advantage.

MX3D 3D printed the up to five meter tall sculpture components in the Netherlands. The team is especially proud of the texture on the parts. In addition to 3D printing the components were welded together by hand and marble inserts contrast the WAAM elements. I love the idea of seeing marble and steel juxtaposed like this.

The Role of Large-Format Metal 3D Printing in the Industry

For a long time, large scale metal 3D printing was an exciting technology without many applications. Over the past several years, however, as many more use cases for WAAM and directed energy deposition (DED) have been coming to market. Altogether, SmarTech Analysis projects, in its “DED and Large-Format Additive Manufacturing Markets: 2021-2030” report, that this sector will be worth $739 million by 2026

DED is a series of technologies that all excel at large-scale objects, but are typically poor in accuracy. Often, these parts have to be post-processed in order to be smoothed into true net-shape items. Considered a process within the DED category, WAAM, specifically, is not great at fine surfaces and details. The process does use commodity wire, however, which, along with six-axis robots and lasers, results in a cost effective combination. For large-scale objects, the process is extremely low cost. Building on well-understood welding equipment and quality-made industrial robots, the technology is standing on the shoulders of giants.

WAAM applications include large oil, gas, and marine components. In some cases, businesses are looking at aerospace tooling and even end components, although the latter is very nascent. Uses that will open up over time will include large heat sinks and heat pumps, as well as pressure vessels.

MX3D is one firm trying to iron out the kinks in WAAM to manufacture enormous items. The firm’s 3D printed metal bridge in Amsterdam is suitably famous. Of the technology, MX3D CEO Gijs van der Velden said:

“MX3D’s robotic 3D metal printing technology provides a smart and digital production solution. It allows for higher form and size flexibility in shapes and textures, higher deposition rate, and reduction of material use and waste, making it highly relevant to achieving sustainable goals of many different industries, companies, and organizations,”

Given the cost effectiveness of WAAM, we can expect many more 3D printing art projects worldwide. With the right combination of cost effectiveness and making the digital physical, municipalities worldwide could be turning to 3D printing in greater numbers in the years to come.

All images courtesy of MX3D.

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