NYU Tandon Students Utilize Digital Fabrication and 3D Printing to Design Winning Concrete Canoe


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From simple PLA to glass and metal, there are all sorts of interesting 3D printing materials being used these days. I find concrete to be one of the more interesting materials, strictly because I know that there still are people who think 3D printing is only good for making little plastic characters, and not actual buildings. Concrete 3D printing completely debunks that assumption: there are 3D printed houses made out of concrete, and the durable material has also been used to make bridges, benches, a firewall, and even… a canoe? A group of NYU Tandon School of Engineering students won big at last week’s Metropolitan Regional Concrete Canoe Competition, put on by the American Society of Civil Engineering (ASCE).

For the first time, the NYU Tandon student team took first place in each of the four competition categories, and won multiple canoe races, demonstrating that their canoe could stay afloat. The team and their canoe, which features sustainable engineering and digital fabrication, are heading to next month’s 2017 ASCE National Concrete Canoe Competition.

The competition gives students a hands-on educational experience as they create, manufacture, and race a boat made out of concrete. Students get the opportunity to discover just how versatile the material is, and look into the latest concrete technology, which includes 3D printing.

Professor & team advisor Weihua Jin (center) and the team of seniors and juniors in civil engineering and chemical and biomolecular engineering pose with their winning canoe

Regionals were hosted by Rutgers University this year, and the NYU Tandon ASCE Concrete Canoe team won first place for their oral presentation, the design paper that explained the design and building process, and the actual canoe. The racing category of the competition encompassed both sprint and endurance, and the NYU Tandon students won the men’s endurance and sprint races, taking first in the women’s sprint, and second in the women’s endurance and the co-ed sprint. Now, for the sixth time, NYU Tandon will be sending a student team to the national competition, which will be held next month at the Colorado School of Mines, also home to the ADAPT research consortium.

Magued Iskander, chair of the NYU Tandon Civil and Urban Engineering Department, said, “The competition provides students with a practical application of the engineering principles they learn in the classroom along with important team and project management skills they will need in their careers.”

Students on the NYU Tandon School of Engineering ASCE Concrete Canoe team with their winning design for the 2017 ASCE Regional Concrete Canoe Competition.

Previously, NYU Tandon canoe team designs used recycled glass as an aggregate in the ultra-high-performance concrete (UHPC), to make it sustainable. While the number of pollutants produced while making the actual concrete definitely went down, the canoe was heavier.

“This year, we set a goal to minimize the weight,” explained project manager Bennet Gaochen, Class of 2017. “By removing the glass and heavy particles, we returned to the basics of what concrete is.”

The ASCE set down some new stipulations for the contest this year, including that an aggregate not solely created for concrete production be used in the design. In order to keep to their goal of a lightweight canoe, the NYU Tandon team chose highly porous pumice as their aggregate, which made the mixture light and low-density.

Given the canoe’s nickname of Sprout, the team was also clearly inspired by nature, and their design is similar to the structure of animal bone: the core layer, made of recycled, expanded polystyrene beads, mimics bone’s interior honeycomb-like structure, and is surrounded by another layer of concrete, which imitates the bone’s rigid exterior tissue. The students picked the core material for a very specific, weight-saving reason: while reducing the use of concrete and other materials that produce a lot of carbon dioxide emissions while being manufactured, it also displaced volume.

Another ASCE rule is that the canoe design could not use paint, so the students got creative, turning to digital fabrication and making several visits to the NYU Tandon MakerSpace. The MakerSpace is equipped with a convection oven, a few scanners, PCB construction equipment, Ultimaker and Stratasys 3D printers, and several laser cutters and engravers. The NYU Tandon team used the laser-engraving machines to cut out cork stencils of tree branches, leaves, and lettering, and then glued the stencils onto the mold of the canoe and covered in concrete: this left a colorful, debossed relief.

NYU Tandon won first place for their design at the 2017 ASCE Regional Concrete Canoe Competition

There are a total of eight captains, including Gaochen, in charge of the multidisciplinary team, six of whom are NYU Tandon civil and urban engineering undergraduates; the last two are visiting engineering students from NYU Abu Dhabi. At least seven team members were designated canoe paddlers, including three of the team captains, and nine other students rounded out the canoe team. Faculty advisor and industry professor Jose Miguel Ulerio, and faculty advisor and industry professor Weihua Jin, who is currently researching digital fabrication of concrete, supported the NYU Tandon ASCE Canoe Team.

Weihua Jin

Jin said, “As a faculty advisor to the team since 2008, I am very pleased that our team made history by winning in all four categories in the regional competition. The team really impressed the judges with innovations that we introduced. Making concrete crack-free has been an engineering challenge. However, the team learned from my research and was able to produce a surprisingly glossy and smooth concrete canoe without any noticeable cracks to date. We are likely going to be the first one at the nationals to demonstrate 3D printing technology in concrete canoe construction. Innovation is the hallmark of NYU Tandon and makes our canoe stand out.”

NYU College of Arts and Science journalism students Talia Milavetz and Renata Matarzzo created a video for the team, which you can check out below:

Discuss in the 3D Printed Canoe forum at 3DPB.com.

[Source/Images: NYU Tandon]


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