3D printing with concrete has shown to have many benefits – it uses less concrete than a traditional poured concrete bridge, and the layer-by-layer approach can reduce the amount of waste and decreases our use of scarce raw material. It’s also got innovative companies using concrete for unique designs and projects. Here are five from all over the world – and maybe even beyond!
Reef Design Lab’s Ocean Environmental Projects, The Maldives
The nonprofit Reef Design Lab used 3D-printed concrete to create the largest artificial coral reef off the Maldives, an island nation in South Asia. The team began by using computer modeling software to copy reefs that are native to the region. Once the printed pieces arrived at their reef destination, divers assembled them and stuck small coral fragments to each piece.
The researchers use their concrete creations to revive marine environments, helping give the local animal, plant, and coral species new habitats on which to grow and live!
New Story 3D Printed Homes, El Salvador
New Story is a charitable organization that brings affordable housing to communities using concrete 3D printing. They printed a fully-inhabitable prototype home using a Vulcan 3D concrete printer – the most remarkable thing about this was that the home was built in under 48 hours! They used this technology to build a community of 100 homes in El Salvador, and now there are homes across Haiti, Bolivia, and Mexico. Each house is expected to cost a very friendly $6,000.
DFAB HOUSE, Switzerland
DFAB HOUSE in Dübendorf, Switzerland, takes prefab to another level! The building is an incredible architectural achievement that used mainly digital processes in both the design and building process. 3D concrete printing allowed professors at the university ETH Zurich to create a three-storey structure on the campus’s NEST Building.
The builders used a wide range of technologies to build DFAB HOUSE. An Autonomous “In Situ Fabricator” robot built a 3D mesh formwork for concrete load-bearing walls; the researchers then printed a glass fibre-reinforced concrete slab that was less than half the weight of a conventional slab of the same size. Smart Dynamic Casting, an automatic robotic slip-forming process and Spatial Timber Assemblies, a digital prefabrication process that uses a dual robot system to create timber frame modules, finished off the building. Builders – the humankind – then filled in formwork and bolted the 3D-printed pieces together!
3D Printed Bridge, The Netherlands
The town of Gemert, the Netherlands, made the first 3D-printed concrete bridge open for cyclists back in 2017! The construction company that designed and built it, BAM Infra, worked with the local university Eindhoven University of Technology for three months to print 800 layers of pre-stressed, reinforced concrete in the university’s laboratory. Though it’s only open to those on bicycles, BAM Infra claims the bridge could take the weight of 40 trucks!
Extraterrestrial Structures, Mars?
Printing concrete buildings is one of the proposals for making useful, durable off-Earth habitats for future astronauts on the Moon or Mars. The European Space Agency worked with a London-based firm to come up with easy ways of making homes on other planets. They have plans to use raw materials on the planets themselves to make structures. All you need is to take the printer rather than all the materials to make concrete! Who wouldn’t want to live in a building made from moon aggregate? We bet the red rocks of Mars would make for a great home!