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Also known as additive manufacturing, 3D printing has significantly democratized the custom fabrication of small and large objects.
3D printing is probably most useful for the rapid fabrication of small custom mechanical parts. However, the technology is also capable of making very large structures and objects. Below is a short list of some of the largest items you may not have realized were made by 3D printing.
1) Concrete Pedestrian Bridge in Shanghai
Designed by a team from Tsinghua University, a pedestrian bridge over a small canal in Shanghai was recently completed via additive manufacturing.
The bridge drew inspiration from the oldest bridge in China: the Zhaozhou Bridge, which was constructed between 589 and 618 AD. Rather than being made of limestone like the Zhaozhou Bridge, the new Shanghai bridge contains 3D-printed concrete. It also features embedded smart sensors to detect physical stress, foot traffic and stability.
2) An Office Building in Dubai
In 2016, Dubai's Museum of the Future project announced the world's first 3D-printed office building, a 2,700-square foot structure.
Putting down a special cement mixture layer by layer, the 3D printing process took 17 days to complete, at the cost of approximately $140,000. One person monitored the 3D printer, while seven people handled the installation of building components. Ten electricians and other trade specialists took care of various engineering aspects. All in all, the project showed a savings of 50% compared to normal costs.
3) A Camper
Fabricated with the largest indoor 3D printer in North America, a 3D-printed camper called The Wave is nearly four meters in length and weighs more than 270 kg. When it was unveiled in 2018, the camper set the record for the biggest single item made by indoor 3D printing.
4) A Sofa
Measuring just 1.5 meters in length and weighing only 2.5 kg, the minimalist Sofa So Good was mostly created from just 2.5 liters of resin. It was coated in chrome and high-polish copper to make it stronger and more aesthetically pleasing.
5) An Electric Car
Strati is a small electric car from Local Motors with a one-piece shell made from additive manufacturing. The company has refined its process since the inception of the first Strati, and the printing time is now only 45 hours.
6) A Massive Fidget Spinner
Remember fidget spinners? In 2017, additive manufacturing companies All3DP and BigRep Gmbh collaborated to completely fabricate a one-square-meter fidget spinner using 3D printing and ball bearings. The large toy was created as a way to showcase the companies’ capabilities.
7) A Large Ship’s Propeller
The WAAMpeller was made using a unique additive manufacturing process that involved the use of an electric arc to melt metal wire. Nearly as big as the average person, the large propeller was created from nearly 300 layers of nickel aluminum bronze alloy.
8) A Motorbike
In 2016, Airbus subsidiary AP Works unveiled a 3D-printed, electric motorbike that weighed only 35 kg. Made from an aluminum alloy, the Light Rider has a range of 60 km and a top speed of 49.6 mph.
9) A Rocket
In April 2019, Los Angeles-based start-up Relativity Space announced an agreement with Canadian satellite telecommunications company Telesat to send satellites into orbit using a rocket made completely by additive manufacturing. Relativity Space’s Terran 1 rocket is slated for its first test launch in 2020.
10) A Big Tool to Make Aircraft
In 2016, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the United States announced the creation of a 3D-printed aerospace tool that was so large, it set the Guinness World Record for the largest object ever made via additive manufacturing.
Intended to assist in wing production for the Boeing 777x, a descendant of Boeing’s popular 777 jet aircraft, the tool piece measures 5.3 meters in length and weighs nearly 750 kg. It took around 30 hours to create the tool.
Resources and Further Reading
Thomas Net: https://news.thomasnet.com/featured/shanghai-unveils-3d-printed-concrete-bridge/
New Atlas: https://newatlas.com/lockheed-martin-largest-3d-printed-spacecraft-parts/55473/
3D Printing Industry: https://3dprintingindustry.com/news/relativity-space-completely-3d-printed-rocket-to-send-telesat-satellites-into-leo-152913
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