3D printing with ice

3D printer-hackers at McGill University in Montreal have modded their 3D rig to print solids made from ice. Scaled up, they believe they'll be able to create large-scale ice buildings, but for now, they're using it for very temporary, very cold, very intricate rapid prototyping:
Currently, the practical applications of this project include commercial and industrial part modeling, and construction for the ice-tourism industry. For instance, small-scale ice models represent economical alternatives to intricate 3D models of architectural objects, be they scale models of buildings, site models, or building details. Presently, casting techniques are being investigated in order to produce high-quality metal copies from ice originals. In the long term, inhabitable, environmentally-friendly structures will be built at the architectural scale using computer-assisted techniques, thus increasing the level of automation in an industry that is currently very labour intensive.
Computer-Assisted Ice Construction (via Beyond the Beyond)


  1. Could a rubber mould be made out of this ice, and from that, a more permanent object made.

    1. You might notice how entirely milky the ice is in the pic. Unless they can get crystal clear ice, well, that market is still there.

  2. I love how university projects have to put in a practical applications for their work in their press kits, but only seem to spend 3 minutes working on it. Example being the bit about making environmentally friendly structures. 5 years ago, the same project would be fighting terrorism. Part of it simply must be hunting for research money.

    Why don’t they just make the thing and let it be in true hacker fashion rather than cobble up some practical application because that’s what you are supposed to do?
    I see it a much stronger idea that way.

  3. I’m sure my ice-sculpting friends will be thrilled with this new, labor-saving wonder…

  4. Yeah, I was going to say (like nanuq) that all those ice sculptors will go bye-bye. Load in a CAD file, hit print and ship out the sculpture to the party….

  5. They are using the Fab@Home printer designed at Cornell University.

    It’s interesting how they make things like the handle of that mug. A brine solution support material with lower melting point is printed where they want to space to be, and the actual object is pure water. Bring the temperature up to the range between the two melting points and the support material melts away.

  6. We may need epic john henry style competion between a 3d printer and a man with a chainsaw…

  7. Why stop at ice buildings? Scale it up to build ice planets. Hoth ain’t going to build its self!

    Or scaled down it could create ice viruses and ice nanomachines.

    (Can someone tell me how structures that quickly melt or sublimate and need to regularly be rebuilt are somehow environmentally friendly? Sure, water. But the energy it would take to rebuild one every few months would be silly.)

    1. You could make some DAMN cool looking ice cubs for themed parties with that sucker! In fact, if you replaced the secondary material they were using (which they melted away to leave voids), you culd make multi-colored icecubs with 3d colored objects in the center.

  8. I don’t know, Inspector. It’s very strange. We couldn’t find any bullet fragments at all.

  9. Sorry, articians, the scientist gut-feel in me says it it’s cheaper to freeze a block, and remove what is not the sculpture. I leave it to the grad students to do the math.

    1. >the scientist gut-feel in me

      isn’t “scientist gut-feel” an oxymoron? the scientific method dictates testing, not guessing. besides, this is quite likely more precise than a chisel and possibly cheaper than a laser rig for comparable precision.

      1. >isn’t “scientist gut-feel” an oxymoron?

        No, not really. Where do you think hypotheses come from?

    1. A scientist’s gut-feel is another word for informed guess. It’s not science ’til it’s tested, but testable ideas come from one’s knowledge-primed imagination. Imagination is a huge, but misunderstood part of science.

  10. There are already tons of CNC routers that ice carvers use to carve ice; there are already haves and have nots in the industry re automation. This will allow more complex sculptures, but it will compete on cost with some very effective CNC solutions already out there like http://www.icerouter.net/

  11. could this be use as an alternative for lost wax casting? it seems to me that this is a more realistic development than whole buildings.

  12. Ice cold!
    Improvements in technology for 3D printers technology has allowed a huge range of companies (not just CAD designers) to use different materials (often low cost) instead of plastic or metals. 3D printing is surely only going to get better and cheaper.

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