We know that 3D printing is set to revolutionise manufacturing. But construction? EU-funded researchers are putting the building blocks in place with 3D printing technology enabling the construction sector to manufacture concrete building materials in a more efficient and cost effective manner. The technology is being combined with more traditional techniques to offer an all-in-one solution.
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The HINDCON project aims to build on the huge cost-saving potential that additive manufacturing (AM) or 3D printing could have on the construction industry. The technique works by adding material layer by layer, to create bespoke concrete products.
Huge efficiencies can be achieved because only the exact quantity of material needed is used, explains HINDCON project coordinator Jorge Rodríguez of Vías y Construcciones in Vias, Spain. It also gives the sector much greater flexibility in terms of what can be produced. It is too early to talk about results at this stage, but I can tell you that our aim is to achieve a 28 % reduction in manufacturing time compared with previous 3D printing techniques and a 60 % time reduction compared with traditional methods, he says.
The ultimate goal of the HINDCON project is to incorporate this technology in manufacturing processes that also involve subtractive manufacturing (SM). This more conventional technique involves creating building products through the controlled removal of material from a block.
A hybrid, all-in-one machine that combines both of these techniques could save the construction industry time and money through eliminating the need for separate post-processing, explains Rodríguez. This would mean that a lot of onsite finishing work would no longer be needed.
Tapping 3D printing potential
AM technology allows for different shapes of materials to be produced much more efficiently. The cost of producing building parts with the HINDCON machine will simply be determined by the volume and type of material needed; the complexity or shape of the design will not be part of the equation, says Rodríguez. In practice, this means that new elements for façade renovation could be quickly produced after a simple analysis of the dimensions, shape and isolation required.
The HINDCON machine will also allow construction businesses to effectively implement just-in-time manufacturing techniques, which reduce or eliminate the need for stockpiles and reduce energy consumption. The machines will be placed near construction sites, also saving on transport.
Building for a sustainable future
HINDCON, which was launched in September 2016, is currently looking at the best ways of combining AM and SM techniques ahead of building a prototype machine. The consortium also wants to show how its proposed solution can fit into the whole lifecycle of a construction project, from the design, direction and execution through to exploitation and dismantlement.
If were talking about new building or civil works construction, it is important to note that building information modelling (BIM) tools are becoming standard, explains Rodríguez. Combining BIM and AM techniques will enable the construction sector to go directly from design to automated manufacturing, using manual labour just for the assembly stage. This will reduce the number of potential errors, as well as construction time and cost.
The project also intends to push the envelope of what is possible in construction; the team plans to demonstrate at lab scale a method to substitute iron bars in structural elements by composite materials that can be printed with equivalent mechanical properties at a reasonable cost and speed.
Continuing this work in order to arrive at a commercial solution will be one of the next steps after HINDCON, suggests Rodríguez. Our project will also help to push European leadership in a new industrial key enabling technology in which other regions, notably China and the US, are putting in significant effort.