Last edited 12 Sep 2016

3D concrete printer

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The RAF recently publicised their use of metal and 3D printers to manufacture spare parts for their Tornado jets, and in 2013 we were told a rifle was manufactured in the USA that used plastic and 3D printing.

So it should come as no surprise to hear concrete could also be used as a layering medium with 3D printers. The University of California have been ‘contour crafting’ in concrete to produce small-scale models of the external and internal walls of houses. The researchers under Professor Behrokh Khoshnevis are now testing a giant transportable 3D printer that could be used to build the walls of an entire house in just twenty four hours. Consistency, accuracy and speed could lead to the replacement of a large element of labour-intensive work.

The robotic system requires a flat ground slab with underground services in place. Rails are installed either side of the footprint to take a gantry crane that spans the building. A nozzle, driven by a computer-controlled crafter then delivers the layering of concrete. The layers build up to form an inner and outer skin to each wall, leaving them to be filled later with insulation or concrete.

In November 2014, Skanska and Loughborough University signed a deal to develop what they describe as the world’s first commercial concrete printing robot. Ref Construction Enquirer, Skanska to print 3D concrete products.

Building information model (BIM) enthusiasts will be watching such developments with great interest as it is a small step to link BIM design to 3D printing. It could offer an answer to accelerating the provision of UK housing without having to mass produce units to the exact same design.

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