Mar 17, 2017 | By David

The major role that 3D printing technology will have to play in the future of construction and architecture is something that is well known, and we wrote last year about a particularly exciting new development in the field, ConPrint3D. This technology allows for large-scale 3D printed concrete projects to be planned, and it won an award for innovation at Bauma 2016, a leading trade fair. Now the technology is getting closer to being fully implemented in a construction project, as a feasibility study was undertaken by TU Dresden to determine the optimum material composition of concrete to be used, amongst other important factors.

Concrete is one of the most widely used construction materials in the world due to its strength and other important material properties, but building with it doesn’t come without its drawbacks. Formworks and scaffolding are currently required on-site to keep the concrete in the desired shape. These are usually made from expensive raw materials like plastic and wood that can also be difficult to recycle, and personnel costs for maintaining these structures are another major issue. ConPrint3D was designed as a way to build without these costs, as well as to drastically reduce construction waste. The technology, developed by a team of researchers at TU Dresden, allows concrete structures to be built up layer-by-layer using 3D printing methods. This additive manufacturing process completely negates the need for any formworks or support scaffolds, offering a much more efficient and cost-effective concrete solution for the construction industry.

Steps are now being taken to realize the potential of ConPrint3D. A three-part feasibility study was intended to reveal the best type of concrete to be developed for 3D printing, and also look into what kind of print heads would be best to extrude the concrete. There looks to be the potential for existing automated machinery to be used as part of the robotic print head guidance system, and this is another area that will be examined in more detail in the coming months. Finally, the study tried to shed some light on the legal and economic framework, pointing to the ideal conditions under which ConPrint3D would be implemented, as well as the best way for the building data to be processed.

When the idea was initially introduced, the multi-disciplinary team at TU Dresden, led by Professor Viktor Mechtcherine and Professor Gunther Kunze, gave the example of building a average sized, single-family house. Conventional building methods would see the house built in 6 days, with 3 construction workers involved in the project. ConPrint3D would potentially allow for the same house to be 3D printed in 10 hours, with only robots required to follow pre-established 3D design instructions. This was calculated as a saving of 30 percent, which would make a huge difference in a large-scale construction project.

The most important aspect of the ConPrint3D method would be choosing the correct type of concrete composition for the 3D printing process. Various important factors were determined by scientists from TU Dresden's Institute for Building Materials. The ideal 3D printable concrete would need to be fast-setting, with good pumpability, long consistency conservation and high thixotropy. Concretes were successfully produced that fulfilled all these criteria, as well as producing structures with the stability and tensile strength of regular concrete. The next step for further research will be the development of concrete with a coarse grain size, that is also 3D printable.

Evidently the huge range of factors that need to be considered, as well as limited practical knowledge of additive manufacturing with concrete, means that ConPrint3D is still at the conceptual stage. The results of the initial feasibility study were promising, however, and the potential for cutting costs as well as expanding design possibilities suggests that 3D printed concrete buildings could become a reality much sooner than we think.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Materials

 

 

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