UK Utility Company Launches Hub for Wastewater “Printfrastructure”

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With homebuilding serving as the primary marketing vehicle for additive construction (AC), we’re starting to see concrete 3D printing further drive its way into other areas of the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) space. One pioneer in the use of AC for civil engineering is ChangeMaker 3D, which has been working with United Utilities in the North-West U.K. to deploy its “Printfrastructure” for wastewater management. Most recently, the partners announced the establishment of a concrete 3D printing hub to produce components for the water sector.

ChangeMaker 3D relies on CyBe concrete printers to produce such elements as water chambers, toilet pods, and concrete slabs for the U.K.’s major high speed rail project. Thanks to funding from the £200 million Ofwat Innovation Fund and three years of collaboration with United Utilities, the new hub is not only meant to produce assets in hours, compared to days with traditional methods, but also to showcase AC to other water companies, construction partners, and members of other industries. Located at Wigan Wastewater Treatment Works and in partnership with Manchester Metropolitan University and Scottish Water, the site will also produce parts with Scottish Water for trial.

Natalie Wadley, Co-Founder and CEO of ChangeMaker 3D, said, “The water industry has a major challenge, and we can’t afford to stand still. This project really shows the solution, as well as the adoption and impact of the technology at large. We’ve really built a transparent and honest relationship with United Utilities which has enabled us to step through this journey together, face this head on and remove the barriers as they appear. We’re a bootstrapped business, grown organically with the support and funding from Ofwat’s Innovation Fund and clients, enabling us to act. We can’t keep doing what we’ve always done, the time to act is now.”

ChangeMaker 3D was first invited to participate in United Utilities’ Innovation Lab in 2021, which resulted in the first 3D printed wastewater chamber used at United’s test facilities in 2022. The printing process along with the finished products have since been tested significantly. Now, the hub will produce such elements as combined sewer overflow (CSO) chambers, necessary for reducing spills from the sewer network. CSO chambers can be 3D printed in just over an hour, with three hours to dry, compared to two days necessary for traditional processes. Moreover, the partners believe that the carbon footprint can be cut by 50 percent with AC.

3D printed water chamber created by ChangeMaker3D. Image courtesy of ChangeMaker3D.

United Utilities’ Head of Innovation Kieran Brocklebank said the introduction of the printing hub is an exciting development, “We’ve been working closely with ChangeMaker 3D for three years during which time the processes have been honed. To finally see a production line of assets being printed is a huge step forward and one we were all excited to see.We are about to embark on our biggest ever capital investment programme and have tight deadlines to meet. Digital technologies such as 3D construction printing will play an important role in driving efficient construction and helping us meet our Net Zero goals for carbon.”

Ian Watt, Scottish Water’s Beyond Net Zero Delivery Manager added, “We have already employed a variety of techniques such as off-site construction, recycling core materials and using low carbon concrete to move towards achieving our ambitious targets. By thinking ‘clever’ and adapting traditional methods to modern needs and aspirations we can build on our successes and 3D concrete printing is certainly a method that could work very well for us. We would like to thank Ofwat and United Utilities for giving us the opportunity to collaborate and find out more.”

Perhaps most interesting is the fact that the hub will expand beyond concrete to include polymer 3D printing. After all, the potential for additive manufacturing in wastewater treatment goes far beyond AC. For instance, Nanosun uses 3D printing to produce innovative water filters for desalination, a key area of research for the U.S. Department of Energy and a number of companies. Given the importance of water to all life on Earth, ChangeMaker 3D and United Utilities could really make a change by changing the way we treat it.

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