James Vaughan, August 23, 2013
Proof that bold collaborations between creative and technical disciplines can pay off spectacularly; Mataerial is a new process that has the potential to change the way we design and build.
Created by an interdisciplinary team brought together by the Open Thesis Fabrication program at the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC), Mataerial was the result of extensive collaboration between roboticist Petr Novikov, Saša Jokić from the IAAC and Joris Laarman Studio. Taking 3D printing techniques as a starting point, the team set out to discover if a kind of ‘anti-gravity’ printing was possible, freeing up the additive printing process to bold new structures.
“The idea of printing with 3D curves instead of 2D layers was a logical step, because of the limitations of current 3D printing methods, which need support material and can only print only on horizontal surfaces working with gravity,” explains Novikov. “The basic trick of Mataerial is that the extruded plastic cures exactly at the moment it leaves the nozzle, making it possible to print in the air. The hardest part of making this work was the timing: the source material should not cure inside the nozzle, so it doesn’t clog, and it shouldn’t cure too late, so the printed curve doesn’t collapse”.
With roots in Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), Mataerial has two major advantages. It can print without a base support structure or lattice, and it can print on surfaces of any inclination – even ceilings or walls. “Because Mataerial prints neutrally to gravity, it isn’t bound to horizontal working surfaces. It also has full colour programming, making it possible to change the colour during the printing process” says Novikov.
The implications are obviously huge, making it possible to print large and complex structures at the squirt of a nozzle, in any terrain. There’s also an strong creative appeal, allowing artists and designers to literally draw in the air. Imagination can run away with you however when it comes to 3D printing however, and the true impact of the technology is likely to take the form of evolution rather than a revolution. “It’s a very useful instrument in the toolkit of manufacturing technologies,” says Novikov, “but we don’t think that additive manufacturing will replace all previously existing methods, even when some 3D printing problems like high price and limited choice of materials will be solved”. Whatever the case, new technologies such as Mataerial are bolstering the toolkit available to designers today, opening up exciting new possibilities.