3D printed steel nodes
Designers from Arup, the global engineers, have pioneered a 3D printing process for steel joints. The development means that highly complex shapes can be optimized for material efficiency while retaining strength.
The project shown is a lightweight node, or connector, for a steel tensile structure. These pieces are subject to concentrated, varying loads. Traditionally, such nodes are cast as a solid piece, but this means an inefficient joint that also uses a lot of steel. Now, printing (or additive manufacturing, as the process is more correctly called) is set to make huge advances in the industry.
A team at Arup worked together with several partners to create the new nodes. These include WithinLab, an engineering software company, CRDM/3D Systems, who partnered on the additive manufacturing, and EOS, who were involved in early stages. EOS has shown that 3D printing steel can reduce material use by 75% and carbon emissions by 40%, which are encouraging numbers.
According to Salomé Galjaard, design team leader at Arup, using additive manufacturing allows the engineers to create lots of complex individually designed pieces far more efficiently. This also has huge implications for waste and cost reduction. The designer states that 3D printing enables very sophisticated design, without requiring simplification at later stages to reduce costs.
Some 1200 variations on the node design were designed. The team found out that the node can be further optimised for weight reduction. Next steps are to test the additive manufacturing nodes in sculptures. After that, Arup expects the steel joints to be used in large-scale construction projects.
Understandably, costs are still higher than for traditionally cast steel nodes, but the designers expect these costs to drop in the near future.