The CHI'17 Pavilion. Image © Ludwig Wilhem Wall

The CHI'17 Pavilion. Image © Ludwig Wilhem Wall

The capabilities of personal 3D printing and fabrication are only beginning to be tested, but a new system is pushing the boundaries for feasible, structurally-sound large scale structures. Unlike other structures created by 3D printing systems, Trussfab doesn’t require access to specialized equipment, nor specific engineering knowledge, to print and build large-scale structures capable of supporting human weight. The Hasso Plattner Institute in Potsdam, Germany created Trussfab as an end-to-end system allowing users to fabricate sturdy, large-scale structures using plastic bottles and 3D-printed connections, making them easy and relatively quick to construct.


A bridge designed and fabricated with Trussfab. Image © Hasso Plattner Institute

A bridge designed and fabricated with Trussfab. Image © Hasso Plattner Institute

Trussfab treats plastic bottles like beams, forming structurally-sound closed triangles which join together to form trusses. These trusses are the basic building blocks of any Trussfab structure. The Trussfab editor is available as a plugin to Sketchup, in which the embodied engineering knowledge within the program allows users to validate their designs using the integrated structural analysis. The Sketchup plugin has the option to automatically convert an existing 3D model into a Trussfab structure, in addition to the capability to build and manipulate a structure from scratch.


A 3D printed hub with embossed ID numbers. Image © Hasso Plattner Institute

A 3D printed hub with embossed ID numbers. Image © Hasso Plattner Institute

Trussfab’s Sketchup editor offers primitives as building blocks in tetrahedron and octahedron shapes. The initial shapes can then be manipulated, however, and Trussfab’s system adjusts the model in a way that automatically maintains the truss structure and the overall structural stability. After a structure is designed, Trussfab generates 3D model files of all the necessary connection hubs for each node, which users can then send directly to a 3D printer. Unique IDs will be embossed into the 3D-printed pieces for clarity, allowing users to then assemble their structure using standard sizes of plastic bottles (Trussfab will show where each bottle size is needed).


The CHI'17 Pavilion. Image © Ludwig Wilhem Wall

The CHI'17 Pavilion. Image © Ludwig Wilhem Wall

A detailed view of the CHI'17 Pavilion construction. Image © Stephanie Neubert

A detailed view of the CHI'17 Pavilion construction. Image © Stephanie Neubert

With only Trussfab’s Sketchup editor, a desktop 3D printer, and the necessary materials, anyone can now design and fabricate a large-scale structure capable of supporting human weight. Once the main truss structure has been created, users can also add decorative facades and other details. For non-structural parts of a design, if desired the Trussfab system will also design flat facades with hubs that can be laser-cut instead of 3D printed, the files for which are also automatically generated.


Digital model of the CHI'17 Pavilion in the Trussfab editor in Sketchup. Image © Robert Kovacs and Oanh Lisa Nyugen Xuan

Digital model of the CHI'17 Pavilion in the Trussfab editor in Sketchup. Image © Robert Kovacs and Oanh Lisa Nyugen Xuan

Digital model of the CHI'17 Pavilion in the Trussfab editor in Sketchup. Image © Robert Kovacs and Oanh Lisa Nyugen Xuan

Digital model of the CHI'17 Pavilion in the Trussfab editor in Sketchup. Image © Robert Kovacs and Oanh Lisa Nyugen Xuan

At the recent CHI’17 conference in Denver, a team led by architects Oanh Lisa Nguyen Xuan and Robert Kovacs constructed a pavilion with Trussfab using 1268 bottles and 191 3D-printed connectors. The pavilion took about 6 hours to assemble on site, a time-lapse of which is shown in the video below. Another video describing the process can be watched here as well.