Story by David Bois, originally published April 2010 on Tonic.com.; Photo by the.Firebottle via Flickr.
While home computer users commonly bemoan the high prices that replacement printer ink cartridges can often fetch, at least we know where to go to find them without too much difficulty. This new printer however is an entirely different animal. Using a mixture of sand and other inorganic material, a 3D printing technology called d_shape transforms CAD design files into actual forms from a material whose strength exceeds that of concrete, as reported by PhysOrg.com. Applications for the technology run the gamut from park benches and kiosks, playground equipment and all manner of architectural and civil engineering forms and structures. As PhysOrg indicates, the speed of construction offered by d_shape is so vastly increased compared to conventional construction methods that building costs are nearly halved through its use.
In principle similar to that employed by ink jet printing technology, d_shape translates digital design documents into tangible form by putting into place 25 dot-per-inch amounts of the concrete-like material from the printer head in successive layers that are stacked in 5 to 10 mm intervals. Its designer touts a suite of advantages offered by the application including improved speed of construction and strength of finished product as well as closeness of match between specified design and resulting finished product.
Park benches and the like are merely the beginning, as the d_shape team reportedly has an eye to not limit the technology to uses here on Earth. With discussions currently underway with partners in the European Space Agency, d_shape is exploring the application as a viable way to produce structures for a future lunar base. Vacuum chamber trial runs are slated to take place in Pisa, Italy to explore the device's function in a low-atmosphere environment such as that on the moon, where d_shape could theoretically use lunar soil along with its inorganic binders to create modular structures.