Foster + Partners Makes Breakthrough With 3D Printed Architectural Details

This new 3D printing technology showcases new uses of steel in the construction and manufacturing industry.

Nathan Bahadursingh Nathan Bahadursingh

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Renowned British firm Foster + Partners has made a breakthrough in 3D printing by designing and manufacturing an additive-steel building truss. The project reveals the effectiveness of the Large-scale Additive Subtractive Integrated Modular Machine (LASIMM), a massive hybrid-manufacturing machine with metal additive and subtractive capabilities for parts up to 16.4 feet long. 

In 2016, as part of a consortium of corporations, universities, and research and technology organizations, Foster + Partners was awarded an EU grant to develop, build and test a LASIMM, which is a world-first for 3D-printing in metal.

The firm was tasked to demonstrate the potential of the technology within the design and construction sector. This called for the design and production of a prototypical structural element that would benefit from and be enhanced by the new LASIMM technology.

Image via Foster + Partners / Autodesk

LASIMM represents a step forward in the evolution of 3D printing in steel construction. It combines design technology with the fabrication potential of 3D printing at a much greater scale and complexity. This could considerably enhance the manufacturing and construction industry, which has long utilized 3D printing technology and fabricated steel in separate ways.

A major part of the project was the development of a novel composite machine, located in Pamplona, Spain. The machine is capable of manipulating steel or aluminum into an exact desired shape. All of the processes take part in one hybrid machine, without movement of the printed element. The software that prepares the digital designs for manufacturing and drives the different aspects of the machine was developed by Autodesk.

Image via Foster + Partners / Autodesk

Foster + Partner’s prototype, a steel cantilevered beam, showcases the potential of the new technology for integration into a hypothetical future building. The team tested different sized beams, from 6.6 to 16.4 feet, presenting potential uses for different building scales.

Foster + Partner’s steel cantilevered beam prototype; image via Foster + Partners 

The beam constitutes a successful proof-of-concept that brings into focus the challenges and opportunities for the construction sector. The medium-term objective is to apply LASIMM to a real commercial project, with the team hopeful this will provide a template for more functional and sustainable architecture.

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Aalborg, Denmark

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