Since 3D printing went mainstream, there’s been much buzz about a future filled with 3D-printed buildings, cars, and airplanes. While there are some exciting experimental examples out there, so far, most existing 3D printers have been too slow and inefficient to mass-produce such large, complex objects.
That could start to change with Autodesk’s Project Escher, a software and control system that enables a new generation of 3D printers to build bigger and faster than existing technologies. Much faster — the updated process could speed up 3D printing by 80–90%.
To increase efficiency, Autodesk’s engineers applied the old adage “many hands make light work” to the 3D-printing process — here, it’s many 3D-printing nozzles instead of many hands. “Traditional extrusion-based 3D printers use a single head to trace out the entire volume of the object that’s being printed,” Andreas Bastian, a 3D-printing research scientist on the Project Escher team, tells Hyperallergic in an email. “Project Escher technology, on the other hand, enables a machine with multiple heads to trace out the object simultaneously, dramatically reducing print time and providing a scaleable path towards large format fabrication of many types of geometry.” Each head, or “bot,” is responsible for printing a small section of an object. The bots are placed in a gantry, and the sections they each print are automatically fused together during the printing process. The more bots in the array, the more quickly the object prints.
Project Escher is still in experimental phases, but once it goes to market, it will likely get the most use in industries that need to build lots of big parts quickly, like aerospace, automotive, and construction. While these industries have already been using large, expensive 3D printers to make rapid prototypes of parts for nearly three decades, this technology could drastically save time and money while also expanding the range and size of printable geometries.
It could also be used in more creative sectors. “There’s some pretty exciting potential for applications in the design, art, and architectural spheres,” Bastian says. “Not only does the technology enable rapid iteration on form, but it allows work at new and significantly larger scale. Many experiments in 3D printing for fashion and architecture are constrained both technically and aesthetically by the segmentation necessary to fit the work into the smaller build envelopes of traditional 3D printers.”
Project Escher, however, isn’t designed for individual tinkerers, unlike all the DIY, at-home 3D printers inundating the market in recent years. But maybe that’s okay — the only individual living artist who could likely afford installing such industrial hardware in his studio is Jeff Koons, and we’re not super excited by the prospect of massive 3D-printed balloon dogs.
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