Is there anything 3D printing can't do? It can replicate everything from houses to guns. It can conjure human organs to satellites. There are even robots that plot material like spiders crawling across a window sill. These applications typically use a plastic or ceramic composite to make their objects, which range from the size of a figurine to the size of a building. But what about 3D printing on a different scale? Like at the material scale?
Architizer got a firsthand view of this more mysterious side of 3D printing at the Consentino factory in Almeria, Spain. The surface manufacturer has developed a new ultra-compact material called Dekton, and we got to tour the state-of-the-arts facility where it is produced.
Dekton is a sophisticated mixture of raw materials that are used to manufacture glass, porcelain, and quartz, and it can be used for interior and exterior surfaces. The hyper-customizable material utilizes 3D printing at the particle scale along with tried-and-true techniques borrowed from ceramics, stone, and glass production and took five years to develop.
Image via designmagnifique.wordpress.com
The process includes 16 steps, where Advanced TSP (Technology of Sintered Particles) sinters mineral particles so that they fuse by changing their internal structure in an accelerated version of the processes of high pressures and high temperatures that Mother Nature applied for thousands of years to produce natural stone. At one point, the entire slab is liquefied like magma found below the earth’s surface. As the temperature drops at the end of firing, the slab solidifies.
One distinctive part of the Dekton process is robotic equipment that acts as a super-precise 3D printer placing particles to decorate the entire surface and can recreate the appearance of any type of natural or artificial material.
The factory is a behemoth. The sprawling, 750,000 square-foot facility contains some of the biggest industrial equipment we've ever seen—a 600-foot oven, a 25,000-ton press—yet even these bulky, towering forms barely fill the vast expanse of concrete floors. Slabs of Dekton roll along production lines like newspapers on a press; elsewhere, robotic arms manipulate the mixtures and finish and buff the final panels into the desired texture and glossiness. Small robotic carts zip about carrying finished slabs of Dekton and stop politely for passersby.
Dekton is certainly a material to watch out for, as its versatility has made it appealing to architects. Daniel Libeskind, who has collaborated with the materials company before, has said he would like to use it for larger buildings. Others, including SOFTlab, have begun experimenting with it at the installation scale, some in direct collaboration with Cosentino. Check out a few of the early adopters in the video below.
All photos courtesy of Cosentino.