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University of Michigan researchers advance 3DCP

Reporting to have developed a method for reducing weight by 72% compared to conventional, solid concrete

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Researchers at the University of Michigan have reportedly developed a 3D concrete printing (3DCP) technique that promises better and more environmentally friendly structures, at a lower cost. Architect Mania Aghaei Meibodi and researchers Alireza Bayramvand and Yuxin Lin of the DART lab, at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, have developed a method for creating ultra-lightweight, waste-free concrete. The method reduces weight by 72% compared to conventional, solid concrete of the same size, and is leading to new partnerships and patents beyond the university.

University of Michigan researchers advance 3DCP with a method for reducing weight by 72% compared to conventional, solid concrete.
Image credit: DART laboratory. Source: The University of Michigan.

3DCP approaches aim to digitize construction and reduce concrete consumption. However, the most widely used approach has geometric limitations that restrict its application to simple shapes like orthogonal walls. “This leads to high concrete consumption and limits its application for lightweight forms that entail intricate shapes like branching and angular tubular forms, overhangs, layer cantilevers, and filament section or angle variations,” said Aghaei Meibodi, assistant professor of architecture at Taubman College.

The University of Michigan team’s new approach, the ‘Shell Wall’, demonstrates a computational design and robotic 3D printing technology that effectively combines topology optimization with 3DCP. The team created a computational model that synergizes nonplanar and variable material deposition based on the shape and geometric features of the topology-optimized parts. This allows for efficient use of material by placing it precisely where it’s needed for structural purposes, “and eliminates unnecessary overbuilding with excessive amounts of materials,” said Aghaei Meibodi. “All of these factors combined mean that we can build better, more environmentally friendly structures at a lower cost.”

According to Bayramvand and Lin, previous research has explored nonplanar 3D printing with polymer-based materials for intricate geometries, but using concrete – a more challenging material – has received limited attention. With these technological advancements from the DART Lab researchers, notable leaders in 3D concrete construction – the Peri Group, ICON, and WASP – are beginning to take notice.

University of Michigan researchers advance 3DCP with a method for reducing weight by 72% compared to conventional, solid concrete.
Image credit: DART laboratory. Source: The University of Michigan.

With rapid urbanization and increased demands to build infrastructure, their work is contributing to major changes in the construction industry and overall 3DCP practices – establishing new partnerships designed to improve future outcomes for architects, lawmakers, 3D concrete printing startups, and the concrete industry at large.

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Edward Wakefield

Edward is a freelance writer and additive manufacturing enthusiast looking to make AM more accessible and understandable.

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