Research is currently being undertaken to print 3D objects in concrete, perhaps literally paving the way for concrete flooring to be produced in an entirely different way.
The building contractors Skanska is working with a number of partners to develop 3D printing of concrete. Loughborough University started researching 3D concrete printing in 2007 a year or two before Skanska joined the project, while Tarmac provides all the concrete mixes used in the research.
The project uses a six-armed robot in the printing process. The arms lay thin strips of concrete on top of each other to build up the layers of the concrete object. The robot technology works well, but the main issue with the process has been getting the consistency of the concrete mix correct.
The team has experimented with various concrete shapes. So far, only small shapes have been made. Most of the prototypes that have been built are for cladding. Large load-bearing structural concrete objects, such as concrete flooring, have not yet been printed.
Skanska believes that the construction industry does not invest enough in research and development. It calls on companies to collaborate on developing new construction technologies. The 3D concrete printing project is an example of this, with several companies contributing to the research.
3D printed made-to-measure concrete flooring could be the future of floor construction, but it will be several years before this is possible, with the technology still currently working on consistently producing small items to the required specifications.
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