Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) Unveils Massive Robotic Concrete 3D Printer, Displays New Pavilion

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TUWe see so many variations and innovations in 3D printing today, and often right from the desktop, from printing in metal to medical professionals making complex 3D printed medical models. We see fashion designers creating incredible avant garde fashions, jewelers fabricating an assortment of goods as well as casting them, and even dentists’ offices making 3D printed molds, models, and guides.

But larger projects out in the real world, dealing with infrastructure and construction, still require the big boys to do the work by way of industrial 3D printers that are often massive in size and rely on added features like robotics. And while they may be true workhorses capable of producing large volume, that doesn’t mean they are lacking in aesthetics and elegance, evidenced by the concrete 3D printer we’ve seen evolving in the Netherlands at the Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e).

Even with its crane-like appearance, the 3D printer from TU/e offers a neat, streamlined look, but looks large enough to encompass your dining room. We’ve been following the progress of this machine since TU/e began work on the concrete printer, capable of printing larger construction pieces and structures like walls. It is constructed of a four-axis gantry robot with a print bed of approximately 9.0×4.5×3 m3, and includes a concrete mixing pump as well, with the entire system—including the robot—controlled by a numerical controller.

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From the pavilion recently created with the new concrete 3D printer.

The research project, handled by the chair of Concrete Structures of TU/e, is centered around the study of 3D printing in concrete. Supported by private enterprises involved in that specific industry, the research team has actually had their 3D printer in service since last fall. Now, they’ve unveiled it to the public just recently in what is to be the first of a series of annual demonstrations.

For the initial demonstration, the research team chose the Vertigo building of the Department of the Built Environment as their venue. With over 70 people in attendance, they were able to show off the printer in action, along with some of the recent prints they have completed.

“The highlight was a pavilion that has been designed, printed and assembled by a group of students, with the help of some of the partner companies—Saint Gobain Weber Beamix, van Wijnen and Witteveen+Bos,” said the research team in their recent press release.

The pavilion is 2m in height, and that particular project was chosen so that the team could show the type of freedom in form that can be accomplished with the 3D printer. It was created without complex or time-consuming molds, and according to the team, it prompted the following questions:

  • How do we connect printed elements?
  • Is the print surface also the (horizontal) construction surface, or are there other possibilities?
  • How do we guarantee structural safety?

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The team working on the project is comprised of PhD students, and 4th- and 5th-year masters students who all performed several months of initial testing on the setup for the 3D printer before they could begin the true research. Currently they are working on:

  • New testing methods and materials
  • Researching the influence of print parameters such as print-head speed
  • True potential for concrete 3D printing

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The creation of the pavilion will, according to the team, set the tone for following research with their 3D printer as they continue to work to show the viability of concrete 3D printing and understand its processes comprehensively, hoping for a future where their new technology is responsible for the manufacturing of a wide range of concrete elements and buildings.

The project is supported by the following enterprises: Ballast NedamBAMBekaert, Concrete ValleyCRHCyBeSGS IntronVerhoeven Timmerfabriek NederlandWeber BeamixVan WijnenWitteveen+Bos and stichting SKKB. The next demonstration of this concrete 3D printer will be in 2017. For more information on the team and their research, see here. Discuss this new technology further in the TU/e Concrete 3D Printer forum over at 3DPB.com.

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The concrete 3D printer at Eindhoven University of Technology. [Credit: Rien Meulman]

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[Credit: Rien Meulman]

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