3D Printing Energy-Efficient Facades

This is part two of a three-part series that highlights energy management innovations in the 3D printing space. They aren’t moonshots, we’re past that point in the Gartner Hype Cycle. They may not be as exciting as a fully-printed building, but these innovations or subsequent versions of them are likely to find their way into commercial spaces in your portfolio within the next decade. By making use of the advantages specific to additive manufacturing (another word for 3D printing), the researchers behind these devices have been able to make old inventions economically viable and new inventions possible.

You can read part one here: 3D Printing Next-Gen Heat Exchangers

A two-man company in the Netherlands by the name of Lab3d is working on highly detailed building façades that can be 3D printed in sections.

This process, called parallel printing, allows for faster fabrication compared to traditional 3D construction. The sections can then be attached to each other to create a larger structure.

Lab3d is exploring two approaches. The first is a lightweight and energy efficient façade that they used in a project for DeltaSync, a company that specializes in floating urban structures. The façade is constructed using PLA, a polymer commonly used in 3D printing.

Various building elements can be included directly in the façade.

What is interesting about this approach is that various building features can be included in the façade without resorting to traditional manufacturing or even other materials. The additive manufacturing process prints complex shapes just as easily as it does ordinary ones, so piping, electrics, and even insulation can be simply printed.

For example, in order to effect insulation, Lab3d filled the façade with a honeycomb structure that traps small pockets of air. This approach reduces heat transfer, especially conductive heat transfer, and is the same approach employed in traditional insulation.

“The insulation value of the structure is only 25 percent less than rock wool, and it adds strength to the structure,” Lab3d founder Bram van den Haspel told Aquicore. “We can fit a lot more centimeters [of insulation] in the same wall thickness, so the complete insulation value of such a façade is far better than for a normal wall of the same thickness.”

Van den Haspel sees this project as proof of concept; he estimates that this approach won’t be commercially viable for 10 to 15 years. We need to improve the materials that go into these façades before they will be able to withstand the benchmark 20 years of actual use, and 3D printers need to get faster in order to compete with traditional manufacturing.

Tiny cubic bricks are printed like pixels.

To that end, Lab3d is also experimenting with a façade that uses a more traditional material: brick.

The Pixelstone project aims to create an on-site 3D printing system that can make façades out of small, cubic bricks. The façade’s layout is designed ahead of time by an architect and printed like pixels.

“In the Netherlands, there’s a growing market for thin, ceramic façades, because they want to make building elements lighter,” van den Haspel told us. “The stones are so small that we can pump them through a hose, and we can reach high speeds! The printer we are working on can make five square meters an hour; that’s comparable with five craftspeople making it by hand.”

Another advantage: These tiny cubic bricks take 90 percent less energy per kilogram to produce compared to regular bricks because of the shorter fire time needed to produce them.

As the hype surrounding 3D printing gives way to more concrete applications, experts in the field are putting together a picture of the future of commercial spaces.

“Buildings will be printed in the future,” said van den Haspel, “that’s for sure.”

Look out for part three of this series on Friday, January 27! In the meantime, read part one, 3D Printing Next-Gen Heat Exchangers, and join our mailing list to get weekly updates.


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