3D-Printed Domino Sugar Redevelopment a First

April 10, 2019

Once the largest and most productive sugar refinery in the world, Domino Sugar industrialized the Brooklyn waterfront, adding to the economic strides in New York City. World-renowned, Domino Sugar attracted workers from all over the world, creating a massively diverse set of employees for over 150 years. The empire is also attributed to the economic and cultural growth of Williamsburg, the surrounding neighborhood. Now over 160 years after the refinery's doors first opened, and 15 years after their final closing, this building means more to the community than an old, abandoned building—it's a symbol of opportunity and prosperity, taken and practiced by the many workers of all backgrounds and ethnicities that worked at the refinery and built the community of Williamsburg.

With such a legacy, the Domino Sugar refinery has become a city landmark. The Refinery Building has been forever preserved with its original brick, whose interior is being reshaped into creative office space for the neighborhood workforce. Soon, the iconic yellow Domino Sugar sign will be reinstated to the building, paying homage to the legacy of sugar monopoly. The rest of the area has been redeveloped into Domino Park, keeping a number of artifacts from the once-thriving refinery.

Making even more headlines than the redevelopment itself is the 42-story tower built with concrete casts from 3D-printed molds. One South First, a high-rise built in Domino Park, is the first of its kind in the nation thanks to a collaboration between Oak Ridge National Laboratories (ORNL) and the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute (PCI). The collaboration began in order to work on ways to improve the thermal efficiency of buildings with the use of lightweight insulated precast panels. ORNL researchers advocated for the potential use of 3D-printed molds, while a member of the PCI advisory team spearheaded a trial. Only 10 days after the trial ORNL asked Gate Precast, the manufacturers of the trial casts, to produce molds for One South First's 1,594 window panels, all of which are 12'4" high and 19'11" long. Gate Precast accepted the challenge and worked with Additive Engineering Solutions to assist with the production.

Due to the nature of the project, CookFox, the project's architects, designed window panels that "conceptually relate back to sugar crystals and the site's history while providing self-shading throughout the day." This concept involves varying profiles of window panels, which required more than 100 different molds. Creating traditional wood molds would take master carpenters, who are currently in short supply, roughly 40-50 hours at the cost of $1,800 per mold. The 3D-printed molds, on the other hand, took only 14-16 hours and $9,000 to produce. Even with the 3D-printed molds taking only a fraction of the time and cost of the wood molds, the question of quality still arose. However, the 3D-printed molds have proved to have a much longer life than that of wood molds. While wood molds can be reused up to 10 times, the 3D-printed molds can be used 203 times without a decrease in quality.

So the molds themselves hold up, but what about their product? As it turns out, the 3D-printed molds create higher tolerances than the wood molds. Additionally, the rigidity of the product "allows for better vibration to consolidate the concrete, thus leaving minimal bugholes in the finished concrete and requiring less repair work," according to PCI's 2018 journal.

This project has definitely advocated for the use of 3D-printed cast molds, but don't worry—master carpenters and their traditional wood molds will not be dying out anytime soon. As with everything else, there are limitations to the use of 3D-printed cast molds. Though these molds saved a vast amount of money for the One South First project, these savings are attributed to the significant amount of reuse available with large-scale projects. Smaller projects that don't allow for such significant reuse would find wood molds a more economical option.

For more information on this project, visit Construction Dive and be sure to check out Domino Park for more information on the history of Domino Sugar and the advances they are making with this amazing city landmark.


One South First building can be seen on the far left. Image credit: designboom