Have you ever spent hours calibrating the nozzle of a 3D printer or preparing a print-ready file – only to find that the model has failed because of a missed zero-thickness wall? With this in mind, the Platonics Ark—a 3D printer currently being developed in Helsinki, Finland—has one simple goal: to remove all unnecessary set-up and technical processes by means of intelligent automation and, as a result, almost entirely eliminate the wasted time that architects and designers spend calibrating printers, or working up print-ready files.
Platonics claim to reduce pre-processing time from hours to minutes; the printer itself is self-cleaning and self-calibrating with a modular design that “spares the user from messy cleaning and handling clogged parts.” According to the company, moving from CAD file to 3D printable STL files takes no more than four steps with their software, which plugs directly into Archicad, Revit, Rhino, Vectorworks, and Sketchup. Uniquely among other 3D printers currently available, the file is delivered to the printer by way of an intuitive, playful web application.
By engaging with practices in Finland and beyond, the Platonics team claim to have had 1,027 conversations with architects in developing the prototypes of the Ark. In addition to this, they have conducted an intensive piloting period with the likes of JKMM Architects, Lunden, Serum Architects, Verstas Architects, and Studio Puisto. For Samuli Woolston of ALA Architects, a practice who are co-developing the prototype with Platonics, “there’s nothing like a physical model to explain a form.” Having used 3D printing as a tool for assessing design iterations of complex forms for over a decade, “the challenge for us is in the amount of hours our staff spends on maintenance and pre-processing files.”
If this device is attempting to reclaim the ‘immediate’ sketch model in architectural practice, it has one distinct advantage: alongside conventional matte and transparent printing materials, it can also work with “Wood, Terracotta, Clay, Granite, Concrete, Copper, and Bronze.”