Manufacturing integrated building components using digital hybrid Concrete Printing (HCP) technology

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

Abstract

The Government's Industrial Strategy highlights the need for the construction industry to embrace digitally-driven, automated manufacturing if it is going to deliver the planned infrastructure development, building and renovation of the built environment. The group funded through this award understands this need and envisages an industry that routinely deploys digitally-driven, off-site-manufacturing technologies to deliver customised and unique precision components to enable the rapid, just-in-time assembly of the built environment. Seamless digital workflow and accurate process simulation will reduce the time from design to product from weeks to hours, delivering buildings faster. It will facilitate the optimisation of components, removing unwanted material (reduced resource use and embedded CO2), designing out interfaces and reducing assembly time and complexity, both during installation and at end of life.

3D Concrete Printing (3DCP) is a digitally-driven, off-site manufacturing technology that is establishing itself worldwide as a viable manufacturing process, but its potential beyond aesthetic objects is fundamentally limited by the manufacturing tolerances achievable. The work undertaken by this group will develop the next generation, Hybrid Concrete Printing (or HCP), technology that uses 3DCP to create a near-net-shape (an object slightly larger than the desired object) and then uses subtractive process (cutting, milling and drilling) to remove a small amount of material to create the net-shape - the desired object to sub-millimetre precision. HCP technology will enable the intelligent integration of building performance and energy production and storage technologies, freed from traditional constraints on form and finish.

This will unlock the potential for accurate interfaces and assemblies and, hence, open the gateway for a revolution in design and manufacture of buildings and the wider built environment. The team will develop research that answers three central goals of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund's Transforming Construction initiative:

- Designing and managing buildings: We will develop and promote new design tools and design capabilities for UK design practise that will create globally marketable expertise;
- Constructing quality buildings: HCP, a digitally-driven off-site manufacturing technology, will realise greater precision in manufacture than is currently possible, enabling repeatable, high quality components to be manufactured with a much shorter lead-time; and,
- Powering buildings: The technology gives the designer close control of surface finish and component geometry, enabling them to add value through function and to design in order to integrate other active components as part of automated assembly.

Planned Impact

The project will create new, world-leading knowledge and commercial impact across our complete supply chain initiative we call 'MADE': Materials, Automation, Design and End user.

Materials: New products developed and marketed by UK-based Synthomer are an expected outcome of the work based on the admixture technology to precisely adjust rheology for variations in batched material. These are expected to create jobs and increased turnover from new markets and export opportunities.

Automation: The digital work flow for creating tool paths during printing and for subsequent subtractive operations will inform future developments of the UK-based Autodesk Powermill software capability, building on their success with the hybrid welding process used to create WAAMpeller. It will also open up new market opportunities for creative design, freed from traditional constraints on form and function.

Design: The design methods will be embedded in design software developed within UK-based Cundall, and Foster and Partners, to enable them to design for manufacture using 3DCP and HCP. This capability places both organisations ready to deliver HCP as a solution for clients, creating a pull for the technology and increasing market share.

End user: Our end-user, Urba-Style, and our startup initiative, Concrenetics, provide an established route to market for the technology. Uptake will create jobs across the sector.

Wider industry engagement:

An industry focused case study report will be written, making the case for the commercial viability of HCP. This will be disseminated through dedicated industry workshops and our experienced dissemination partners, e.g. the BRE, to promote the technology, attract investment, engage potential customers and other organisations interested in becoming part of the technology supply chain.

A publicly accessible video story book will be produced in the same style as those recently undertaken by Autodesk for their WAAMpeller and Simplexity projects. These will be made in conjunction with partners to showcase the technology to lever third party engagement and raise the investment required to generate more rapid uptake and penetration of the technology.

Towards the end of the project we will prepare a stand at the 2021 UK Concrete Show (+180 exhibitors) to showcase the project outcomes to the wider UK and international concrete industrialists and public through the stand and technical lectures.

Publications

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