DISTRIBUTED PRINTING: the use of a distributed 3D printing method as a new model of complex architectural project delivery
Distributed printing method is a process that allows complex architectural components to be fabricated by more than one production source at a global and local scale. While 3D printing (also known as additive manufacturing) is considered a revolutionary technology for many manufacturing industries, the application in the architectural industry lags in leveraging the potential of this innovative technology. Today, most architectural designers have to utilise large and expensive 3D printing equipment to create monolithic, singular buildings. Accordingly, there is a need for finding another workflow to deliver complex architectural structures, and the distributed printing method holds promise for this application.
The imminent question therefore is; how small-scale architecture can leverage the power of distributed 3D printing to deliver complex architectural structures. However, the current knowledge in distributed 3D printing for architecture has received little attention in the research literature.
To test the hypothesis that distributed printing methods could lead to faster and more affordable project delivery, a mixed methodology strategy, including literature review, case study, experiment, and simulation, was utilised in this thesis. Literature and some cases were researched to identify the potential workflow of distributed printing. Moreover, a series of small-scale models were fabricated to test the factors which may affect distributed fabrication. Furthermore, an experiment was conducted to simulate the entire process of delivering an architectural project using distributed printing methods.
The architecture proposed utilising digital design tools and the method of distributed printing to create an envelope formwork as a way of creating an outer shell or skin for the structure. It is not intended that the components form the final envelope skin.
In summary, the distributed printing methods positively impact complex architectural project delivery when utilised strategically. With the support of the distributed printing platform, architecture has the potential to utilise a larger number of printers beyond any single factory, therefore leveraging the full power of distributed printing methods to create time and cost benefits. At the same time, some negative factors, such as logistics delay, also show the risk of using distributed equipment worldwide. In the future, the ideal method will be more likely to provide distributed sites with closer geographical distance to users.