It would be a shame to redevelop the Domino Sugar refinery property in Brooklyn without giving a nod to the historic building’s past. Installing concrete panels on the exterior of the 42-story tower achieved that, but manufacturing those panels from 3D-printed molds also provided a glimpse of the future.

Both the materials and the method can confer significant benefits over traditional time- and labor-intensive wood molds, its proponents say, yet the applicability has its limitations.The idea of utilizing 3D-printed molds for precast concrete exterior panels was born from a collaboration between the Oak Ridge National Laboratories (ORNL) and the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute.

After working together on ways to improve the thermal efficiency of buildings through lightweight insulated precast panels, researchers from ORNL saw the potential for introducing 3D printing.Steve Brock, senior vice president of engineering at Gate Precast Co. and member of the PCI advisory team for the ORNL project, agreed, and used 3D-printed molds to cast about 30 samples of a 1-foot cornice piece for a client.