Introduction: 3D Printed Tile Aggregation

These step-by-step instructions could be used to either create an interesting aggregation of units at the sculptural level or could be applied at the architectural level to become a façade system for a building. Either way, the end result is beautiful.

Knowledge of the following software is required: Rhinoceros and Grasshopper.
Knowledge on how to create a watertight model in Rhino for 3d printing is also imperative.

Step 1:

1. Design a complex 3-dimensional tile that could be arrayed in the x and y direction. The finished tile should be a closed polysurface with smooth, continuous surfaces. Artists and designers that could provide some inspiration include MC Esher, Frank Stella, Roy Lichtenstein, Bathsheba Grossman, Marta Pan, Alexandre Noll, Merete Rasmussen, Nani Prina, and Pierre Paulin. This tile will be your “open” tile. Shown above is my open tile.

Step 2:

2. Design a separate closed version of this tile. This variation should have fewer voids so that it could be perceived as a more solid unit. Shown above is my closed tile.

Step 3:

3. Back up a copy of both these tiles just in case something goes wrong in the next steps.

Step 4:

4. For both tiles, explode all the surfaces and delete the surfaces that are the edge condition of an array (the edge surfaces giving each unit thickness). What you should be left with is a top and bottom continuous surface.

Step 5:

5. Use Grasshopper to create a non-rectangular grid to panel your tiles. The grid can be a parallelogram, triangular, or hexagonal. The definition shown above uses the parallelogram for a grid. Conceptually, this definition represents a sun system that chooses the placement of the tiles based on the angle and location of the “sun.” The last two images compare the location of the closed units versus the open units.

Step 6:

6. Play around with the sliders in Grasshopper to create a version of the design that you like.

Step 7:

7. Bake the very last two morph commands in Grasshopper. Shown above is the product in Rhino.

Step 8:

8. After the design has been baked, go back in Rhino and “patch” all the open edges to create a continuous, enclosed polysurface.

Step 9:

9. Prepare the design for 3d printing. The thickness of the units and overall length, width, and height of the entire design must adhere to the guidelines for the specific 3d printer that will be used. A number of materials can be used but each type of material has a different set of guidelines.

Step 10:

10. Lastly, submit your file for 3d printing. There are many companies that 3d print; Shapeways is one such example.

Step 11:

11. Finished product is shown above.

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