What can 3D-printing do?

Objektcollage von Additive Addicted

Addi­tive manu­fac­turing (also known as 3D printing) is no longer a niche topic for manu­fac­turers. Although it has been tech­ni­cally feasible for 25 years, the break­through has only taken place in recent years. Almost everyone has heard of it, but actual appli­ca­tions are still not visible every­where today. 3D printing is, at the same time, the most over­es­ti­mated and under­es­ti­mated tech­nology of our time. The consumer imag­ines the Star-Trek “Repli­cator”, which produces things from energy.

Additive Addicted makes it happen

The designer duo Addi­tive Addicted is already showing how the future may look today. Inside the work of design collec­tive Addi­tive Addicted tech­nolo­gies of digital produc­tion meet a mate­rial that is thou­sands of years old: porce­lain. In order to high­light its special prop­er­ties and qual­i­ties, the collec­tive develops para­metric and gener­a­tive strate­gies for program­ming and control­ling the move­ments of a ceramic 3D printer. The result is objects with fili­gree, highly complex struc­tures remi­nis­cent of textiles. The symbiosis of tech­nology and mate­rial results in an unseen reper­toire of forms that would not be possible with conven­tional ceramic tech­niques.

The collec­tive was founded in Berlin in 2017 by product designer and art histo­rian Babette Wiezorek and inter­ac­tion designer Dawei Yang. Addi­tive Addicted researches and works in the field of tension between mate­rial exper­tise and devel­op­ment, gener­a­tive coding and tech­no­log­ical process design for addi­tive, computer-aided manu­fac­turing processes with fluid mate­rials with a special focus on ceramic mate­rials. On one hand, Addi­tive Addicted produces and distrib­utes config­urable ceramic objects, on the other it’s work­shops convey the special qual­i­ties of the process and make connec­tion tech­nolo­gies of coding and gener­a­tive design tangible. Addi­tive Addicted sees itself as a labo­ra­tory that researches, produces and commu­ni­cates, thus sounding out, ques­tioning and advancing the poten­tial of 3D printing and the emerging digital industry.

Complexity for free

What do these exper­i­ments mean for other scenarios of appli­ca­tion? Measured by the weight and volume of conven­tion­ally manu­fac­tured compo­nents, addi­tive manu­fac­turing methods are much more expen­sive in most cases. One of the most impor­tant advan­tages of 3D printing over conven­tional manu­fac­turing methods is its finan­cial and tech­nical inde­pen­dence from the complexity of the compo­nents. Economic corner­stones are mate­rial, volume, instal­la­tion space and printing time — complexity does not matter. To manu­fac­ture a compo­nent, only one primary forming process is used instead of several different forming processes (rolling, milling, bending, drilling, etc.). The inven­tion of plastic injec­tion moulding was simi­larly revo­lu­tionary. However, this is still subject to severe restric­tions regarding the direc­tion of demolding, mate­rial thick­nesses etc. and requires the manu­fac­ture of very expen­sive tools.


In addi­tive processes, much more complex struc­tures and even internal moving func­tional parts can be produced. Screws, nuts, bolts, clips are no longer neces­sary, and so is their assembly. By means of an intel­li­gent design, it is possible to save time and money by inte­grating several compo­nents into one compo­nent. This fuel injec­tion nozzle for aircraft engines, where 20 compo­nents have been combined into a single compo­nent, can serve as an example of this.

Lightweight construction

In avia­tion, small savings are followed by big results. Lufthansa, for example, deter­mined that one kilo­gram of weight savings in one of its MD-11s would result in a saving of 10 tons of kerosene per year. What leads to eco-effi­ciency and cost-effec­tive­ness in civil avia­tion can lead to perfor­mance gains and longer flight times in the construc­tion of flying drones and already have a major impact in the gram range. Researchers are already using 3D printing to produce mate­rials with a better force-to-weight ratio than the hardest known tech­nical mate­rials. The combi­na­tion of pres­sure-stable struc­tures and tensile ropes, as well as para­metric design, can repre­sent a promising field of research.


Addi­tive Addicted, ‘N+1 Series’


Minia­tur­iza­tion is playing an increas­ingly impor­tant role in many fields of appli­ca­tion. In elec­tronics, hard­ware is becoming increas­ingly smaller, in medi­cine more and more oper­a­tions can be real­ized with minimal inva­sion, even in space travel nanocube satel­lites with an edge length of 10 centime­ters are capable of real­izing tasks such as former satel­lites weighing tons and soon promise, for example, global earth obser­va­tion and commu­ni­ca­tion in swarms. The already mentioned advan­tages in light­weight construc­tion and the gener­a­tion of complex microstruc­tures will be reduced to undreamt-of scales by new addi­tive manu­fac­turing tech­nolo­gies such as multi­photon lith­o­g­raphy. Two lasers inter­sect in a space point accu­rate to the nanometer and cure a polymer by wave super­po­si­tion. In this process, compo­nents can be real­ized in the microm­eter range that can be placed on the tip of a human hair. Even if these tech­nolo­gies are not yet avail­able on the market, they can soon be expected due to the predom­i­nantly rapid devel­op­ment. Indus­trial and product designers, as well as manu­fac­turers, will find completely new possi­bil­i­ties here, which can already be inves­ti­gated exper­i­men­tally on a larger scale today.


The produc­tion of the indi­vidual parts of prod­ucts in addi­tive processes is often even more time-consuming than in conven­tional processes. However, the devel­op­ment and produc­tion of the product itself can be realised in a time which cannot be achieved with conven­tional means and methods. Instead of years of market research, devel­op­ment and produc­tion in hundreds of thou­sands of editions, addi­tive processes can be used very early and contin­u­ously. A quick reac­tion to sudden events and market devel­op­ments can give compa­nies enor­mous compet­i­tive advan­tages and a boost to its image. However, since prod­ucts cannot be trans­lated one to one into addi­tive manu­fac­turing processes, it is impor­tant to focus on produc­tion-oriented design for rapid manu­fac­turing in teaching and research. Further­more, the design method­ology differs consid­er­ably. Fast iter­a­tive steps at the provi­sional end product, an agile devel­op­ment of hard­ware is still unex­plored today and also a promising design theo­ret­ical research approach, whose employ­ment would have a posi­tive effect on univer­si­ties and the surrounding economy.

Freedom of design

By means of addi­tive manu­fac­turing, objects can be real­ized, which cannot be produced with today’s produc­tion methods or only with great effort. The scope of design and the possi­bil­i­ties of produc­tion are enor­mously expanded. The possi­bil­i­ties of this tech­nology are very closely linked to those of CAD design, which present their users with new chal­lenges. Research in and through design should there­fore deal with both sides.


Addi­tive Addicted — Digital Porce­lain Manu­fac­turing

Economic efficiency

Addi­tive manu­fac­turing processes can bring enor­mous economic advan­tages, which are not neces­sarily achieved in unit costs, but rather system­i­cally. Through addi­tive produc­tion, more can be produced in the factory and without assembly, thus elim­i­nating supply margins for subcom­po­nents and assembly. Reducing the size of the machine park and saving personnel costs by using a uniform means of produc­tion reduces fixed costs, invest­ment costs and the depen­dency and risk of down­time on skilled personnel. In addi­tion, more favor­able or better customer support can be provided if the spare parts are not produced from stored produc­tion surpluses but in on-demand produc­tion. During devel­op­ment and produc­tion plan­ning, produc­tion costing is simpli­fied, as no quota­tions have to be obtained and waited for for subcom­po­nents produced in-house, but only machine time, instal­la­tion space and mate­rial can be calcu­lated. This can be done inde­pen­dently of the sales figures to be fore­cast.


On a larger, more economic scale, the intro­duc­tion of addi­tive manu­fac­turing will also coun­teract the glob­al­i­sa­tion of the economy. The economy as a whole will thus be able to generate a larger propor­tion of its value added in its own country and inter­na­tional depen­dency will decrease.

However, this also has a notice­able effect on indi­vidual compa­nies when they switch to addi­tive manu­fac­turing. Greater self-suffi­ciency, no commu­ni­ca­tion prob­lems with foreign part­ners, obso­lete foreign produc­tion branches and busi­ness flights to distant manu­fac­turers save money and reduce risk.


Addi­tive Addicted, ‘Deep Blue 1’ — Digital Porce­lain Manu­fac­turing


Various aspects of addi­tive manu­fac­turing have a posi­tive effect on the envi­ron­ment and in some cases also have posi­tive economic effects, and, if not only CO2, also energy is saved as a result. For example, lean and on-demand produc­tion reduce ware­housing, there is no over­pro­duc­tion and because produc­tion takes place close to the point of consump­tion, trans­port distances are short­ened. The posi­tive effects of light­weight construc­tion appli­ca­tions already mentioned have a posi­tive effect above all in trans­port, with the greatest impact on air traffic.

Since the amount of compo­nents and mate­rial wrin­kles is reduced in line with produc­tion require­ments, it is much easier to iden­tify and recycle mate­rials. In addi­tion, there are already many easily recy­clable, bio-based and some degrad­able mate­rials on the market. In contrast to non-Euro­pean raw mate­rials, those avail­able in Europe are better controlled for pollu­tants such as toxic plas­ti­cizers and flame retar­dants. Closed mate­rial cycles are more likely to be realised with busi­ness models based on addi­tive manu­fac­turing.


Addi­tive Addicted — Digital Porce­lain Manu­fac­turing


One of the most impor­tant posi­tive effects of addi­tive tech­nolo­gies is their inde­pen­dence from quan­ti­ties. For the produc­tion of parts, it is irrel­e­vant whether each part is iden­tical or different. This enables not only the already mentioned quan­tity-inde­pen­dent produc­tion, but also an indi­vidual adap­ta­tion of each indi­vidual product for the respec­tive customer. Whether on the basis of the indi­vidual ergonomic needs, the concretely detailed body shape in orthopaedics and medical tech­nology or simply on the basis of the customer’s taste, prod­ucts can be indi­vid­u­alised within certain limits without addi­tional produc­tion costs. The field of para­metric design is partic­u­larly rele­vant because the adap­ta­tion of 3D models can be auto­mated.

Independence and flexibility

The afore­men­tioned advan­tages of inde­pen­dence from suppliers, semi-finished prod­ucts, spare parts and the flex­i­bility gained by saving time, elim­i­nating ware­housing, trans­port, retooling and adjusting machines become even more rele­vant if they are not only consid­ered from an economic point of view, but if they make some­thing possible in the first place.

In areas that are diffi­cult to reach, such as under the influ­ence of natural disas­ters, in war zones, in devel­oping coun­tries, in sparsely popu­lated or unpop­u­lated areas, on islands and in maritime and space travel, we cannot count on an infra­struc­ture and supply chain that is familiar to us. Spare parts can often not be kept as close to hand as they are needed. Defect indi­vidual parts cause entire machines and systems to fail that could be urgently needed. The spreading of e.g. sinter­able plastic and metal powder, fila­ment, which can be made to anything that is needed at the moment, is much easier to realize. For all these scenarios prod­ucts which are manu­fac­tured in addi­tive processes and which are supplied by the manu­fac­turer with a spare parts data­base would have an unbeat­able sales argu­ment.


The term “addi­tive manu­fac­turing process” or “3D printing” encom­passes many different tech­nolo­gies, each of which can be oper­ated with many different mate­rials. Each has its advan­tages or disad­van­tages, special areas of appli­ca­tion and also poten­tial in combi­na­tion with further processing steps. Since there is so much move­ment in this field at the moment, research into appli­ca­tion and further processing possi­bil­i­ties for these new mate­rials is partic­u­larly promising. In the following some tech­nolo­gies are consid­ered and described in which way and with which prospect research can be carried out.

Fused Filament Fabrication

Fused Fila­ment Fabri­ca­tion (FFF) or Fused Depo­si­tion Modeling (FDM) is an addi­tive manu­fac­turing process used to build up a work­piece layer by layer from a meltable plastic. Since the tech­nical require­ments are compar­a­tively low, the machines and mate­rials are now very inex­pen­sive. Since this process has thus arrived on the consumer market, a market has grown in recent years that is constantly producing new mate­rials and better printers. The possi­bil­i­ties of these devices remain limited and some prob­lems, such as the thermal distor­tion of the work­pieces could still not be solved satis­fac­to­rily. However, the low cost and wide avail­ability makes the tech­nology very inter­esting as a research topic. Today there are mate­rials made of 80% copper, for example, which are weakly elec­tri­cally conduc­tive and good heat conduc­tors. Plas­tics that change colour when the temper­a­ture changes, lignin-based bioplas­tics or bioplas­tics filled with wood or bamboo fibre, wax fila­ment suit­able for building moulds and flex­ible plas­tics. Since there are already existing printers with several extru­sion nozzles, different mate­rials can be combined in one compo­nent to inte­grate mechan­ical func­tions into a compo­nent with rigid and flex­ible mate­rials, for example.


Addi­tive Addicted — Digital Porce­lain Manu­fac­turing

Powder printing experiments

The FH-Potsdam is equipped with a powder printer Z350. The powder is distrib­uted very thinly and evenly in a pres­sure chamber, then it is wetted with a print head similar to that of ink jet printers at the places where it is to harden later. The objects are solid after printing, but very unstable and porous. Only after infil­tra­tion, e.g. with plastic, do they obtain their final prop­er­ties.

The Z350 printer is currently oper­ated with a powder/binder combi­na­tion, which is sold by the manu­fac­turer at rela­tively high prices (powder 75€/kg, binder 210€/litre). From publi­ca­tions of the “Solheim Addi­tive Manu­fac­turing Labo­ra­tory in the Mechan­ical Engi­neering Depart­ment on the Univer­sity of Wash­ington Campus” alter­na­tive combi­na­tions of powder and binder are known today. This would reduce costs to a small frac­tion because they are based on mate­rials such as gypsum, maltodex­trin and alcohol, which are very cheap to obtain. Model construc­tion and proto­typing could not only be used at the end of the design projects, but iter­a­tively in the course of them. In addi­tion, “mate­rial recipes” have been published that produce a wide range of prop­er­ties. In prin­ciple, for example, any solid mate­rial can be printed in powder form when mixed with maltodex­trin, a type of sugar. A mixture of water and alcohol can be used as a binder, which cross-links the sugar mole­cules and thus binds in other parti­cles. For example, by using rice flour-maltodex­trin powder and infil­trating it with wax, it is possible to produce a melt-out mould which can then be cast in a sand mould with liquid glass or metal in a further processing step. The aim of appli­ca­tion research in powder printing could initially be to repeat the exper­i­ments from Wash­ington and make suit­able recipes manage­able. This would not only increase the possi­bil­i­ties of mate­rial vari­a­tions, but would also make research and teaching more econom­ical in general.


Let us get back to Addi­tive Addicted and porce­lain: Ceramics can also be used as a powder mate­rial in the process described above. Instead of infil­trating with plastic, ceramic can be sintered in a ceramic furnace in a second step. The use of gypsum as a powder mate­rial also promises the produc­tion of nega­tive molds for use as ceramic casting molds. This would allow ceramics to be produced and repro­duced on the basis of 3D models. Another field of appli­ca­tion for ceramics is the use of liquid ceramic casting mass and open-pored foam. This is soaked with it, then dried and fired in the kiln. The foam compo­nent is debonded and a porous, stable and at the same time light ceramic foam struc­ture remains. The process is now used to manu­fac­ture ceramic filters for filtering liquids such as gases. If the sponge were placed in a 3D printed exoskeleton, it could be brought into any conceiv­able volume shape. Foam ceramics, such as the tech­ni­cally related metal foam mate­rials, offer a special prop­erty due to their very low density, a consid­er­able weight saving with an approx­i­mate reten­tion of the mechan­ical prop­er­ties of the starting mate­rial. They are there­fore also suit­able for light­weight construc­tions.

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Contact Person at Meisterrat:
Claudia Wagner