A photograph released by Arup has elegantly expressed the resource reduction potential of 3D printing for the construction and manufacturing sectors.

The image of three metal structural elements shows how 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, can lead to a reduction in both weight and cost – with each product designed to perform the same function and carry the same structural loads and forces. However, the much smaller, organic looking form on the right is designed using advanced optimisation and additive manufacturing methods – cutting the amount of materials needed and wasted.

“In the case of this particular piece, the height is approximately half that of one designed for traditional production methods, while the direct weight reduction per node is 75 per cent,” Arup team leader Salomé Galjaard said.

“On a construction project that means we could be looking at an overall weight reduction of the total structure of more than 40 per cent. But the really exciting part is that this technique can potentially be applied to any industry that uses complex, high quality, metal products.”

With additive manufacturing, manufacturers can create complex, individually designed pieces and print them directly in metal. And while much has already been said of 3D printing’s ability to cut waste and costs compared with traditional manufacture, the latest advances in design techniques explored by Galjaard’s team mean that far smaller, lighter elements can deliver the same function and strength as those created by traditional methods.

“We have been working on this for some time now and we’re really excited about how fast we’re progressing,” Ms Galjaard said. “We’re really pushing the boundaries here.”