Oct 23, 2015 | By Alec

Over the past year or so, several private companies and innovators have been working hard on building commercially viable concrete 3D printers for the construction industry, and many are looking quite good now. But we should obviously not forget about academic researchers, who are often responsible for the most exciting breakthroughs. In that respect, people from the construction industry will be very curious about a new concrete 3D printer taken into operation in the Netherlands by the Eindhoven University of Technology. This concrete 3D printer, built by Dutch company ROHACO, is very accurate (for a concrete printer) and features an impressive build space of 11 by 5 by 4 meters.

This concrete 3D printer was taken into operation by the TU Eindhoven a few weeks ago, but is only now becoming news for an unveiling at the Dutch Design Week this week. Part of the project 3D Concrete Printing (3DCP), it costs about 650,000 euros and was financed by ten companies and the university. And this 3D printer drew huge crowds, and that’s hardly surprising for such an impressive machine. The university will be using it to develop a number of construction innovations in collaboration with commercial partners over the coming years, including a focus on easily recyclable concrete products including complete walls with all necessities built in.

As you can see in the photos, it somewhat resembles an FDM 3D printer, but needs an entire hall rather than a desktop. Key is a printhead that can flexibly move in all directions, attached to a concrete mixer and pump. It’s believed to be the first concrete 3D printer of this size in the Netherlands.

Photos: Rien Meulman

As professor of concrete structures Theo Salet and PhD student Rob Wolfs say, this concrete 3D printer opens a wide range of new possibilities. However, it also requires a lot of new knowledge, building techniques and materials to operate. Its primary advantage is the ability the 3D print very fine structures, they say, and the thickness is determined by the housing used. In the near future, it should be able to 3D print structures as small as a pea, they say. There are also plans to 3D print multiple materials simultaneously. ‘We are thinking about setting up several extrusion heads, pumps and mixing chambers. But perhaps different materials can be pumped through a single hose, if we can predict how they interact,’ Rob Wolfs says.

What’s more, it is capable of 3D printing a variety of different kinds of concrete, opening the way for varieties in color, quality and even isolation and acoustics. A single wall can even consist of different features, for instance by adding fibres in regions that need to be stronger than others. An added isolating or dirt-repelling layer is also an option, while pipes and smart components like sensors or lighting can be added during the printing process. Salet calls it ‘concrete 2.0’: ‘think about putting down varies layers of different types of concrete in different places. Standard concrete there, ultra-strong concrete wherever we need it.

However, those kinds of innovations are still years away. While already functional, scientists are still figuring out how to optimally 3D print a single wall. After all, the bottom layer needs to be sturdy enough to support weight, but wet enough to adhere to the layer on top. The Eindhoven team is therefore still looking for optimal types of concrete, and are expecting to make commercial results available within the next five years – though the first house could be made within a year. ‘It’s about building products, so safety is hugely important and that requires careful research,’ Wolfs says.



Posted in 3D Printer



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