It's the vocation of the artist to take the known and transform it into something beautiful and startling.
Artist Joris Laarman uses a 3D printing robot made from a robotic arm most often found on the machine shop floor to create flowing metal sculptures which require little in the way of support structures.
Taking a page from the work done recently by designers like Dirk van der Kooij (of Endless Chair fame) and intellectuals like Joshua Pearce (the creator of the MTU metal printer), Laarman has outfitted his manufacturing robot with welding capability. Laarman's metal printer, which he calls the MX3D-Metal can trace exquisite designs in thin air formed from a variety of metals which include steel, stainless steel, aluminum, bronze and copper.
Laarman was also instrumental in creating a previous version of the idea, the MX3D-Resin printer, which makes use of a quick-setting plastic material. It too outputs organic-seeming structures which can sprout from nearly any surface.
"By adding small amounts of molten metal at a time, we are able to print lines in mid air," Laarman says.
He notes that vertical, horizontal and spiraling lines require different settings for pulse time, pause-time, layer height and tool orientation, and he adds that varying those settings can allow the lines being printed to intersect in order to create a "self supporting" structure. He says the method "makes it possible to create 3D objects – on any given working surface – independent of its inclination and smoothness, in almost any size and shape."
While that sounds remarkable enough in and of itself, you really have to see the robot in action to get the full effect.
By combining various bits of software to drive the robotic end of the machine, Laarman has essentially created an "art welder" capable of drawing additive forms fit for a museum space. By varying the settings for MX3D-Metal, his machine can trace out straight, curved or spiral designs which seem to hover in midair.
Laarman's Amsterdam think tank and lab works in the fields of digital fabrication and computational design with major institutes like MIT, IAAC, ETH and the Architectural association to develop "new concepts for the digital fabrication revolution." Laarman says his team of craftsmen, along with software and robotic engineers, is supported by the leading 3D design software makers Autodesk, and the members of his team, Filippo Gilardi, Tim Geurtjens and Corné Henselmans are engaged in pushing the boundaries of what can be considered additive manufacturing.
"3D printing like this is still unexplored territory and leads to a new form language that is not bound by additive layers," Laarman said. "Lines can be printed that intersect in order to create a self-supporting structure. This method makes it possible to create 3D objects on any given working surface independent of its inclination and smoothness in almost any size and shape."
Next up, says Laarman, is doing the work to create a simple-to-use interface which would allow nearly anyone to print directly from files created in standard computer aided design software.
If you'd like to see the MX3D-Metal 3D Printer in action, and it's sure to be a treat to watch it at work, Laarman says his robot will be on display at the Friedman Benda gallery in New York from May 1st to June 7th, 2014.