by Aad van de Wijngaart

The first thing that catches my eye is a dishwasher. It’s an unusual presence in the study hall of the Library, but the dishes that are displayed in it are even stranger. They are exact copies of fragile drinking glasses that were made centuries ago and now reside in museum collections. The originals were scanned and printed as molds for replicas of (indeed dishwasher safe) porcelain. So, you now can buy an exact copy of a seventeenth century nodule cup in a Delft shop.

Photo by Jan v/d Heul.
See our entire photo collection on Flickr.

The exhibition about provides a broad survey of the many ways in which TU Delft has taken up this new technology. The showcases attract a lot of attention: I see pensive and intrigued faces of students who stop and look, often with coffee cup in hand. Sometimes a smartphone is brought out to take a picture. Some visitors engage in conversation about what they see. “Awesome!” “Hey, this one is sick.”

Others slump in deep armchairs, earphones on, to watch clips about applications of 3D printing around the world: a TED Talk about experimental dialyzers that can be printed to size in seven hours, or a short documentary from South Sudan about artificial arms, printed on site, for children who were maimed during the civil war.

The Wall of Materials shows how wide the physical spectrum of 3D printing already is: from rubber-like materials to ceramics, stone and steel. Even wood fiber can be printed, with a polymer as a binder.

At the Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering, students apply themselves to creating an open source 3D metal printer that is within reach of many yet delivers good quality. The first results, in rust-brown steel, contrast beautifully with the thin, soft shoes with which they share their showcase. Those are from another Delft project, where custom made shoes are printed on a rotating scanned mold.

The architecture students, too, don’t mind building their own hardware. They found normal 3D printers too low to print models of buildings, so they made one for themselves. It’s displayed at the exhibition: a more than two meters tall contraption of aluminium, MDF and, for the complex parts, 3D printed plastic.

From the 3ME Faculty there are examples of topology optimization. Simply said: the perfect shape, where exactly the right amount of material is used in every spot. So, you save money, weight and materials. And only 3D printing makes it possible.

This is just a sample of what’s on show in the Library, since 3D printing is used, researched and taught in many parts of TU Delft. The colophon on the Library website presents the long list of people and organisations that have provided material for the exhibition.

At the end of the exhibition one can see what a commercial 3D printing company like Shapeways can deliver right now. You create the digital design at home and Shapeways turns it into the pristine, multicolored shapes that you had in mind: from bracelets to bottle-openers and toy cars.

Are we in the midst of a new industrial revolution? Pieter Stoutjesdijk, of the Architecture Faculty, thinks so, judging from his timeline at the exhibition. I wonder what the speakers of Monday’s lectures think of the power of 3D printing.