Printing physical objects has not only become possible in the past few years, but is now both practical and affordable. The earliest experiments in this fast-growing industry were objects small enough to manufacture on a desktop. Now, they are going from being the desktop to being a structure in which you can store a desktop.
At the extreme high end of this new and exciting manufacturing process is something called a 3D concrete printer. It works by creating a thin layer of concrete in a precise pattern. Each of these layers are then stacked on each other to produce structures. The reason concrete printing is useful is because those structures can be of nearly any size or shape.
What happens when it becomes possible to build durable structures of any size or shape?
There are practical examples of homes and small buildings being produced by the process of 3D concrete printing in a matter of days or even hours. While this might be possible for a crew of highly trained construction specialists with exactly the right materials and equipment, the alternative of assigning a single machine and perhaps one or two people to operate it has obvious benefits even beyond the simple matter of cost.
Imagine for a moment a disaster scene. There are hundreds or thousands of people with nowhere to stay. In the time it takes to deliver and set up enough tents, a 3D printer could construct large scale housing in nearly any size and in nearly any quantity. With proper planning, that housing would take up less space and provide better accommodations as well.
Check out this video to learn more about the viability of 3D printed concrete homes.
Three dimensional printers operate through the use of a set of digital instructions. These instructions are essentially a set of blueprints expressed as a three dimensional model of what the printer is expected to build.
These models can be adjusted to real world tolerances of fractions of a millimeter if necessary. In fact, one of the key innovations in 3D printing is the combination of this level of precision with pre-engineered building blocks. Concrete printers, for example, can produce thousands of these blocks to be assembled in an interlocking pattern much like popular children’s building toys. Since they fit together in exacting tolerances, they produce a structure that is highly resilient.
When using precise designs, proper curing helps the concrete set properly. Many construction specialists will make use of curing blankets to ensure new concrete maintains the moisture levels necessary to achieve the best results based on the particular mixture involved. This kind of innovative concrete curing improves quality and reduces costs.
Structures which can be engineered at the component level can be designed to be several orders of magnitude stronger than their traditionally constructed counterparts. Consider for a moment the difference in load-bearing between a standard concrete support and one that is assembled out of honeycomb lattice bricks.
Pound for pound, the hexagonal cellular shape of the honeycomb is the strongest structure in nature. Not only would a column so constructed be able to support massive loads, it would be equally strong against lateral movements, meaning it might even better protect a building against earthquakes or floods. 3D concrete printing can produce a honeycomb lattice as easily as it can produce a brick.
Additive manufacturing has a bright future in all kinds of applications from construction to mechanical engineering to aerospace. Processes like concrete printing will help advance the technique to the next level.