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3D printing shapes building industry

ABS molds for the Domino Sugar Factory site were produced on ORNL’s Big Area Additive Manufactured machine. Image credit: Gate Precast

A residential and commercial tower under development in Brooklyn is changing the New York City skyline, and its origins exist in ORNL research. The tower’s white precast concrete façade—rising from the site of the former Domino Sugar Factory along the water-front—evokes the form of a sugar crystal, a pattern created from 3D printed molds at DOE’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at ORNL.

Working under collaborative research and development agreements with industry partners Gate Precast and Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute, ORNL researchers used carbon fiber–reinforced acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, or ABS—a common thermoplastic compounded with chopped carbon fibers—to make the molds for the project.

The Big Area Additive Manufactured— or BAAM—molds were used to cast close to a thousand precast concrete parts for the façade of the 42-story tower. ORNL researchers from the Building Technologies Research and Integration Center and MDF collaborated to produce the molds.

“We didn’t know if 3D printed molds could be made to work for the precast industry,” said Diana Hun, lead buildings researcher on the project. “But we thought it was worthwhile to examine the potential.” To do so, ORNL needed a project to demonstrate that BAAM technology could rapidly manufacture molds suitable for precast concrete manufacturing.

Gate Precast, one of PCI’s members, was awarded the contract to construct the Domino building façade, and the tower provided ORNL with the perfect platform to demonstrate the viability of 3D printed molds. For Gate Precast, ORNL developed the process science to reliably manufacture 3D printed molds and transferred that knowledge to a commercial enterprise, Additive Engineering Solutions, to print additional molds.