Builders Skanska and Loughborough University in the UK have signed a collaboration agreement to develop the use of 3D concrete printing in construction.
A team at the School of Civil and Building Engineering in Loughborough has worked on the development of 3D printing technology for the construction industry since 2007 and has developed 3D concrete printers fitted to a gantry and a robotic arm, which is now in its second-generation form.
The Concrete Printing team has a multidisciplinary background in architecture, construction technology, mechanical and manufacturing engineering, computer-aided design and materials science.
Additive manufacturing techniques are able to build physical objects directly from computer generated instructions, which means users can create complicated shapes that cannot be manufactured by conventional processes.
Concrete Printing is one such process and uses a type of concrete that is deposited very precisely under computer control. It works by laying down successive layers of concrete until the entire object is created.
Potential applications include doubly-curved cladding panels, complex structural components, architectural components, and the ability to work in hazardous environments.
These machines can be used to solve some of the complexity issues found in construction if they can be scaled up to produce massive parts out of appropriate material. The aim of the initial 18-month development programme is to develop the world’s first commercial concrete printing robot.
A number of influential collaborators are working with Skanska, including acclaimed architects Foster and Partners, Buchan Concrete, ABB and Lafarge Tarmac. As a result of this programme, Skanska aims to explore opportunities opened up by the new technology and help develop a 3D printing supply chain.
“3D concrete printing, when combined with a type of mobile prefabrication centre has the potential to reduce the time needed to create complex elements of buildings from weeks to hours," said Rob Francis, Skanska’s director of innovation and business improvement. "We expect to achieve a level of quality and efficiency which has never been seen before in construction.”
Dr Richard Buswell from the Building Energy Research Group at Loughborough University was keen to see the long-term impacts of the new method.
“The modern construction industry is becoming more and more demanding in terms of design and construction," he said. "We have reached a point where new developments in construction manufacturing are required to meet the new challenges and our research has sought to respond to that challenge.
“We are pleased and excited by the opportunity to develop the world's first commercial 3D concrete printing robot with Skanska and their consortium. We have been convinced of its viability in the lab, but it now needs industry to adapt the technology to service real applications in construction and architecture."