3D printing helps designers build a better brick

Jul 29, 2014 by Daniel Aloi
3-D printing helps designers build a better brick
PolyBricks are created on a 3-D printer as greenware, at left, and then fired. The ceramic bricks after one firing are shown at right.

Using 3-D printing and advanced geometry, a team at Cornell has developed a new kind of building material – interlocking ceramic bricks that are lightweight, need no mortar and make efficient use of materials.

Developed by the Sabin Design Lab in collaboration with Cornell and Jenny Sabin Studio, the PolyBrick project team included assistant professor of architecture Jenny Sabin with senior research associate Martin Miller, a visiting critic at Cornell; visiting lecturer Andrew Lucia; and Nicholas Cassab, B.Arch. '14.

"PolyBrick is the first mortarless, 3-D printed wall assembly," Sabin said. "It will allow for the production of ceramic wall assemblies that are robust and high strength due to the novel implementation of highly complex and organic generative design strategies that are also simply and economically produced. … 3-D printing allows us to build and design like nature does, where every part is different, but there is a coherence to the overall form at a global scale."

PolyBricks feature tapered dovetail joints like those used in woodworking, and the tapered sides of the bricks can be oriented in wall assemblies to maximize structural strength.

"Each brick/component has an embedded intelligence at both the local and global scales," Sabin and Miller said in a joint statement. "At the local scale, there are geometric manipulations and exchanges built into the algorithms connecting components with their adjacent neighbors. Within this algorithm, there is also a global awareness of the components' orientation in Euclidean space. This awareness allows this aggregative system to implement proper taper angle to ensure gravity will lock the bricks in place."

Data from various sources is used to tune the structural lattice of each brick, and can be used for "everything from structural optimization to view angles, porosity, curvature and form, to the strategic placement of plumbing and mechanical building systems. The thickness of the lattice may be tapered towards the top of the structure to add reinforcement at the base where it is needed. In turn, this creates openness at the top of the assembly where desired to maximize the filtration of light," Sabin and Miller said.

Entire buildings can be constructed using a single material, and there is almost no waste in the 3-D printed production of the bricks.

"I started working with 3-D printing in 2009 when we were able to purchase our first ZCorp 510 powder-based printer … the largest powder-based printer on the market at the time," Sabin said. "I was interested in using the printer to rapid manufacture non-standard parts for larger architectural assemblies instead of representational models. To our knowledge, we were the first to do this."

Research on the PolyBrick project, she said, focused on "the prospect of building part-to-whole assemblies featuring non-standard components and biologically inspired forms."

With their porous structural lattice, the ceramic bricks are a cost-effective , since they are much lighter and use less raw material than conventional solid bricks, and would be useful in large-scale constructions.

"Surprisingly, ceramic bricks and tiles, so ubiquitous in their application in the built environment, have lacked recognition as a viable building component in contemporary architecture practice until now," states the project team's research paper, "PolyBrick: Variegated Additive Ceramic Component Manufacturing."

"Industrial and technological advances have shown us that ceramic production can be manual, mechanical and now digital," using CAD/CAM to automate design and fabrication. "The plastic nature of clay offers a potent material solution to contemporary generative design processes in architecture, which frequently feature organic and natural forms of increasingly complex expression and ornamentation."

Explore further: New digital fabrication technique creates interlocking 3D-printed ceramic PolyBricks

More information: SabinJenny E., MillerMartin, CassabNicholas, and LuciaAndrew. "3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing." June 2014, 1(2): 78-84. DOI: 10.1089/3dp.2014.0012.

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User comments : 11

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Dr_toad
Jul 29, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
mikael_murstam
4 / 5 (2) Jul 29, 2014
why not use a hexagonal design
antialias_physorg
3.3 / 5 (3) Jul 29, 2014
I wonder when someone will come up with the idea of printing bricks that incorporate similar structures as in termite hills for zero-energy air conditioning.
It's already been tried with conventional buildings but the special parts needed have made this expensive. With 3D printing this would be no more expensive than printing regular bricks (and with widespread adoption would lead to enormous energy savings)
ViperSRT3g
5 / 5 (1) Jul 29, 2014
I too was surprised and a little annoyed by the amount of buzzwords used in such a brief article. Somewhat disappointing just because I'm interested in 3D printing.
Scottingham
not rated yet Jul 29, 2014
How long does it take to print each brick? I assume it takes less energy to fire since there is more surface area and less material, which is nice. If it takes 12 hours to make one of those things though....
italba
not rated yet Jul 29, 2014
@Scottingham Why do you have to print just one brick at a time? Use how many printer heads do you want arranged in array and you can make as many bricks you want!
tadchem
not rated yet Jul 29, 2014
Someone has spent too much time on jigsaw puzzles and not enough on materials science. Interlocking is a good idea, but one can accomplish the same objective (resistance to relative motion between adjacent bricks) in easier ways, less susceptible to disruption in the process.
Firing ceramics has a significant effect on the dimensions, and non-isotropic shrinkage is one.
The particular shapes used here could more easily have been produced by injection molding.
Mikael's idea has much merit: groups of 4, 5, 6, or 7 congruent hexagons in a cluster can tesselate a plane with tiles that will resist lateral motion and stack without mortar.
Andrew Palfreyman
1 / 5 (1) Jul 29, 2014
Old brick house - windproof
New brick house - windy and full of insects

Next
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Jul 29, 2014
The particular shapes used here could more easily have been produced by injection molding.

I think you're missing the point here. Injection moulding means you have to make a mould. With arbitrarily shaped architecture that means making a LOT of moulds (which you either have to store if you want to use them again, or destroy and remake everytime you need something similar for other houses...Either way a costly business).

But printing allows you to accomplish the same thing without any moulds.You can have millions of different shapes (or even create fitting shapes on the fly derived from the architect's plan) - and all it costs you is a harddrive full of STL files or an appropriate algorithm.

Firing ceramics has a significant effect on the dimensions, and non-isotropic shrinkage is one.

It's not like algorithms to predict shrinkage don't exist. Firing ceramics isn't exactly a new science.
Code_Warrior
5 / 5 (1) Jul 29, 2014
"Each brick/component has an embedded intelligence at both the local and global scales," Sabin and Miller said in a joint statement. "At the local scale, there are geometric manipulations and exchanges built into the algorithms connecting components with their adjacent neighbors. Within this algorithm, there is also a global awareness of the components' orientation in Euclidean space. This awareness allows this aggregative system to implement proper taper angle to ensure gravity will lock the bricks in place."

Yeah, and a wheel doesn't rotate, it uses its local awareness of its frictional dynamics to apply exactly the right forces to affect the direction of travel while at the same time using its global awareness of rotational dynamics to maintain its orientation in Euclidian space. This awareness allows this aggregative system to implement the exact set of forces required to ensure that loads will roll rather than slide, reducing the force required to move a load.

Dr_toad
Jul 30, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
jackofshadows
not rated yet Aug 02, 2014
Use 3D printed molds that are decomposable. How hard is that? Assuming, of course that the shape is resolvable to a mold. Sheesh,
rockwolf1000
not rated yet Aug 04, 2014
@Scottingham Why do you have to print just one brick at a time? Use how many printer heads do you want arranged in array and you can make as many bricks you want!


Wow! Really. Thanks Captain Obvious!

Suggest work on your grammar!

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