Arup says it has developed a 3D printing technique for creating structural steel elements to be used in construction. Although laser sintering has been used elsewhere, Arup believes this is the first time it has been used for this purpose. The technique could reduce energy usage, costs and waste.
Arup's research was carried out with a number of partners, including engineering design software and consulting firm WithinLab, 3D printing experts CRDM and manufacturing solutions company EOS. The research focused on applying an existing laser sintering technique, which was initially developed by EOS, in a construction setting.
The technique uses a laser to heat up and melt a fine layer of steel powder that then solidifies to form part of the structure. A new layer of powder is then added and the structure is gradually built up. The technique allows for building up a structure in a very precise way and, for this reason, a similar approach is used by German company 3D MicroPrint to create very small metal components. As such, Arup believes that this method has particular value for creating very intricate or complex structural elements and may have applications that have, as yet, not been considered.
"By using additive manufacturing we can create lots of complex individually designed pieces far more efficiently," says Salomé Galjaard, a team leader at Arup. "This has tremendous implications for reducing costs and cutting waste. But most importantly, this approach potentially enables a very sophisticated design, without the need to simplify the design in a later stage to lower costs."