The next industrial revolution?
“We are looking at a new revolution in technology, economics and society, where everything is digital”. So says Josep Miquel Piqué, telecommunications engineer and vice-president of the International Association of Science Parks and Areas of Innovation (IASP).
This rotund statement by Piqué is just the latest to be issued by experts around the world who have proclaimed in recent years that we are living in a time of economic change led by additive and advanced manufacturing, popularly known as 3D printing.
Thanks to this process, the software that makes it possible and the new materials being developed, we can now make bones, human organs and raise buildings. In this context, Piqué says that “digital manufacturing allows us to print on demand whatever we need wherever we need it”.
In this sense, the urban planner, master in architecture and digital manufacturing, and co-founder of the Fab Lab Barcelona, Tomás Díez says that “access to new advanced technologies of digital manufacturing through Fab Labs, makerspaces and hackerspaces, have converted this phenomenon into a global creative movement”, the so-called maker movement, in which Barcelona is a major player.
“I think Barcelona is the place where we must push for a new productive model for our cities. Initiatives like the Fab Labs, Ateneus de Fabricación, makerspaces that we can find in various neighbourhoods, are showing ordinary local people on the street what this technology can do. On the other hand, Barcelona has companies and universities that are developing 3D printers , which means that the city has an ecosystem perfectly tuned to the development of advanced additive manufacturing”, he says.
In this context, Fira de Barcelona has organized in June the first edition of In(3D)ustry From Needs to Solutions, an event which has been a resounding success in which the representatives of different industrial sectors using this technology, such as architects, health or automobiles, have explained how they apply it to their processes.
These processes, as the Organization for Cooperation and Development (OCDE) has already warned, can make the unemployment figures rise as fewer workers and operators are needed. In this sense, a report by the organization considers that automation will entail the replacement of up to 12% of Spanish workers in the coming years. However, Industry continues to require trained and highly qualified professionals for new technologies, a trend which seems unstoppable.
Architecture and construction
One of the fields where additive manufacturing is firmly entrenched is in architecture and construction. In this context, the Greek architect and academic director of the Advance Architecture Institute of Catalonia (IAAC), Areti Markopoulou, affirms “although we architects have left it later than other disciplines, I believe we are making significant progress, because we are already printing houses in mass production mode, which means at high speed and low cost”.
According to Markopoulou, “advanced additive manufacturing will apply new sustainable construction processes, so that we can arrive at a site without resources, and use small machines to print in situ using local materials, without the need for transport, moulds, joints and assembly”. Tomás Díez adds that “We could hardly call 3D printed products advanced if we continue to contaminate as much as we do with our present-day processes”.
Among the ambitious projects that revolve around use of the 3D printer, and which were addressed in the event, there is one developed by the architect Xavier de Kestelier, from the architecture studio of Norman Foster, who wants to build lunar bases with this type of printer installed on the moon: they would have room for four people and could resist extreme temperatures, meteorites and radiation.
What is additive manufacturing?
Additive manufacturing is a new form of manufacturing in which the material, whether plastic or metal, is deposited layer by layer to create a 3D form previously defined on the computer.
Additive manufacture does not eliminate excess material, but only builds exactly the form required in each case. It therefore enables pieces to be made without waste and in a short time.