Design-for-manufacture of 3D concrete printed structural composites (DfM:3DCP)

Lead Research Organisation: Loughborough University
Department Name: Architecture, Building and Civil Eng


The development and modernisation of UK infrastructure requires the ubiquitous use of concrete, but conventional casting methods are inefficient, inflexible and dangerous. The UK Industrial Strategy White Paper identifies that the UK has insufficient skilled labour to undertake the next 10 to 20 years of essential infrastructure development, to deliver the £600Bn National Infrastructure and Construction Pipeline. Hence, the development of world-leadership in automation of key parts of the construction supply chain is critical.

3DCP removes the need for conventional moulds or formwork, by precisely placing and solidifying specific volumes of cementitious material in sequential layers under a computer controlled positioning process. This represents a radical 'mould-breaking' change, that challenges the implicit mind-sets of architects and engineers, where for millennia casting has required moulds, which in turn constrain the form, geometry and variety of building components and systems. 3DCP technology implicitly binds design and manufacture in contrast to current practice where designers and constructors are separated organisationally, institutionally and professionally. 3DCP is creating worldwide interest from the construction sector and lends itself to using readily available robotic arms as positioning tools for clever material deposition devices, which enable the manufacture of components to be digitally driven.

However the required pull into commercialisation requires architects and engineers to engage their clients with designs suitable for the manufacturing process. However the underlying science as it relates to concrete composite materials simply does not exist. This project will be the first in the world to systematically investigate the interrelationships between rheology, process control, design geometry and reinforcement design in relation to there impact on the hardened properties of the final material. The project goes further and makes the first seps towards encoding the rules learnt into a software environment that will seed the development of new design software in the future.

Planned Impact

The project will create new, world leading knowledge in the areas of:

- parametric relations of material rheology and production parameters with resulting microstructure and topology of 3DCP;
- more sustainable mixes and admixtures for use in 3DCP;
- microstructural characteristics and topology of 3DCP;
- automation and robotic control of construction operations;
- mechanical performance of structural composites and the implications for design; and,
- prediction and modelling of structural composite materials.

It will produce and make available through open access:
- a comprehensive material properties data set for 3DCP with & without reinforcement; and,
- design tool codes for structural composites manufactured using 3DCP.

It will demonstrate a proof of concept of the design-through-manufacture process that includes the analysis and design of structural composite elements delivered in a report that explains the implications for the adoption of 3DCP for stakeholder in the supply chain. Additional workshop will be used to disseminate findings, as well as a planned exposition of the project at The concrete Show in 2021.

The project partners come together to form an industrial liaison group that builds on existing relationships and brings new collaborations which sit across construction, automation, materials, manufacturing, standards and certification, and design. These world leading organisations provide the dialogue through which the project findings can be refined for greatest relevance and impact.


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