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Skypad Living

09 Mar 2017

3D printing vertical villages

At Melbourne’s Sustainability Festival in February, four RMIT students showcased their “green innovations”.

Arthur Georgalas presented his project on Turning the Tide which re-imagines recreational boating, courtesy of a lightweight venturi hull, constructed using naturally derived resins and hemp fibre composites.

In a related vein, Finbar McCarthy spoke about his contribution to the future of recreational fishing where his Scales Project pairs a safe and practical landing net with a new smartphone app that simplifies the catch and release process.

The winner of the day, Ruby Chan, showcased Moducware™, a fully-compostable tableware alternative to take-away packaging. Being made entirely from plant-based material, including agricultural discards like cornhusks, discarded Moducware™ containers can “return to the earth as a bio-nutrient”.

And then there was Peter Hermez with Equinox” –  a new, sustainable footwear solution. This project addresses the challenge of the ever-growing footwear industry where current production methods mean that 80 per cent of material is wasted just in the pattern cutting stage.

Peter developed Equinox to eliminate this production wastage, which he achieves through his new manufacturing approach that needs no gluing or stitching. There are two further advantages of Equinox shoes – they are customisable, meaning consumers can have individualised footwear – and the shoes have a longer relative lifespan.

Perhaps you are wondering the link between Equinox and vertical living? There is, of course, the obvious benefit that a reduced number of shoes means a reduced demand for storage space (literally a smaller footprint!).

However, it is the technology used in Equinox that piqued interest – namely 3D printing and 3D knitting technologies.   3D printing, or additive manufacturing, is a process of putting down successive layers of material to make three-dimensional objects.

Instead of using printing ink, 3D printers use materials like flexible polyurethane and follow a set of digital instructions that guide the production of a growing range of tangible items.  Already 3D printing has had an enormous impact in design-related businesses where prototype development can now go from idea to physical object within hours rather than weeks.  

And more intriguing applications continue to emerge, such as the joint restoration project between the University of Warwick and the British Sugarcraft Guild, which are using 3D printing to restore the vandalised 1947 replica of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip’s wedding cake.  

As 3D printers shrink in size and price, they are making their way into more homes, where items both for fun and more practical purpose can be printed.  One fast growing area is the ability to print obscure component parts that may no longer be available but are needed to repair broken appliances.

However, 3D-nirvana is not quite here. The ability to print these types of intricate components require two additional elements – the authorised instructions and the right material. A bit of know-how also wouldn’t go astray as the Pandora Box of insurance is awaiting those who wantonly reproduce and use protected items.  

This is one reason why new 3D user groups are emerging. In Victoria, for instance, artists needing to 3D print have access to specialised services, materials and advice.

Returning to our vertical villages, 3D printing has several ready applications, most especially in terms of building management. The capacity to produce, in-house and on-demand, specialised parts (like that missing elevator component) eliminates wait times for deliveries coming from the other-side-of-the-world.  

Similarly, authorised replacement parts can be printed and supplied direct to residents. As original fixtures age (like dishwashers) and parts become hard to find, supplying these components could significantly extend the life of standardised fittings.  

In another vein, owners’ corporation committees can greatly improve their communications with residents. For example, realistic models of proposed building modifications can be easily produced and displayed for comment.

There is also the possibility of offering services to residents on a pay-per-use basis so, in time to come, residents could order a pair of Equinox, picking them up in their building's foyer later that day – but this just might be a step too far for our building managers.

If you would like links to the RMIT Green Innovations mentioned, please visit and like @SkyPadLiving on Facebook.

Janette Corcoran

Apartment Living Expert

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