3D printing, Bridges, 3D printing architecture, Design technology, Spain, Madrid

Madrid completes world's first 3D-printed bridge

According to a Markets and Markets report released in June 2018, the 3D concrete printing market is anticipated to grow significantly, from an estimated $1.2m in 2018 to $1.48bn by 2023 – a compound annual growth rate of 317.3%.

3D printing technology holds great potential for the concrete market, with mass customisation and enhanced architectural flexibility – as well as an inherent sustainability – expected to drive its uptake in the years to come.

Spanish firm Acciona claims to be a leader in large-scale 3D concrete printing technology, and in 2016 was the first company to 3D print a concrete bridge. Two years later, the firm teamed up with software specialist Autodesk, facilitating the manufacture of large-scale, complex shapes out of concrete, through the use of Autodesk’s generative design software.

Speaking to Construction Week about Acciona’s decision to enter the 3D concrete printing market, the firm’s Middle East 3D printer manager,  Luis Clemente, says: “Acciona is one of the most is innovative companies in the infrastructure sector and large-scale concrete 3D printing was identified as a potentially disruptive technology. [We] could not ignore this fact, so we started working with this technology in 2013, through our [research and development] division. As pioneers at the time, we have since been developing this technology. Many market analysts’ reports show a clear upward trend for the 3D-printing business and a continuously growing market.”

The company’s 3D concrete printing efforts are in line with the Dubai 3D Printing Strategy, which was launched in April 2016 by HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.  The scheme, which Clemente describes as a “breakthrough strategy”, focuses on three key sectors, one of which is construction. It includes an ambitious mandate for 25% of Dubai’s buildings to utilise 3D printing as part of their construction by 2030.

“Reports indicate that 3D concrete printing will achieve between 50% and 70% savings, and that labour costs could be reduced by 50-80%,” Clemente states.

“In addition, this technology will help to reduce waste produced in construction operations by up to 60%, which will reflect positively on the economic returns of the sector and contribute to sustainable development,” he continues.

“The customisation and freedom of shapes and volumes that 3D concrete printing is bringing to the building sector is impressive.”

And Clemente adds that this is “only the beginning”, with technologies such autonomous machines, drones, augmented and virtual reality, and artificial intelligence all set to make the building environment safer for workers while increasing production rates. “All these technologies are paving the way for the complete automation of the construction site in the near future, in a sustainable manner,” he says.

The main difference between the conventional approach to concrete in construction and 3D-printed concrete is that the latter requires no formwork. “If you need complex shapes in concrete structures, formwork becomes labour-intensive and costly, whereas 3D printing can approach complex shapes in more efficient ways,” Clemente explains. “Reduction of concrete consumption is also an advantage when it comes to reducing waste and disposing of the material.”

He adds: “One of the bigger challenges for 3D printing technology is the lack of regulation from authorities. This usually makes it necessary to study every project on a case-by-case basis, which requires additional time and resources.

“The precast industry, a relatively new development, not unlike 3D printing – can also produce multiple standardised units of a building item, such as beams. But 3D-printing technology will continue to excite concrete enthusiasts around the world. At the moment, 3D printing has more applications in special and singular structures, but it is moving quickly towards general construction as well.”