3D Concrete Printing: The Future of Construction

freeform construction project

A 1 ton reinforced concrete architectural piece has been produced to demonstrate the potential of the process and is the first in a series of components to be manufactured.

The introduction of highly sophisticated computer modeling technologies has meant that designing the shape and form of a building is now only limited by an architect’s imagination. Leading architectural practices such as Foster+Partners are designing buildings to a level of geometrical complexity unheard of ten years ago. However, while these forms can often be achieved through offsite factory-based manufacturing techniques, there are significant limits to the levels of intricacy obtainable. For example, pouring concrete into a framework can go some way to fulfilling these ambitions, but the reality is that the achievable complexity is still limited. The manufacturing processes required to turn these complex building designs into reality have remained elusive–until now.

This may be about to change, if current research in the Freeform Construction Project at Loughborough University comes to fruition. The research group has been inspired by 3D printing, an additive manufacturing process. Here, information created from computer generated models is exported to a 3D printer, which then builds up a model, or a component, layer by layer. The virtual model is, in effect, materialized. At Loughborough, instead of using powder and glue, they are experimenting with concrete, to create large scale building components.

Xavier De Kestelier, Associate Partner at Foster+Partners, says, “The research here at Loughborough University gives us tremendous opportunities. We are able to have a little peak into the future, to see what would construction then actually will be in the next five to ten years.”

Concrete printing works on the basis of a highly controlled extrusion of cement based mortar, which is precisely positioned according to computer data. The process has the potential to create architecture that is more unique in form, but crucially, components do not have to be made from solid material, and so can use resources more efficiently than traditional techniques.

“We have shown how additive manufacturing can be developed to create large structures, such as panels and walls, with precisely controlled voids within them,” said Professor Simon Austin, Co-Investigator at Loughborough University.

For example, the section which you can see being manufactured in the video could incorporate all the service requirements of a building, such as pipes and cables, in one unit.

Dr Richard Buswell, Principle Investigator at Loughborough University adds, “This process is capable of producing building components with a degree of customization that’s not yet been seen. And it could create an era of architecture that’s adapted to the environment and fully integrated with engineering function.”

Imagine whole sections of a building being printed and then assembled on site with their service provision already installed. Above all, imagine a building whose form and scale could take on limitless possibilities.

Source: Freeform Construction Project