University of Michigan researchers develop tech to 3D print lightweight, waste-free concrete

Shell Wall. Showing the nonplanar layer deposition and the elegant transition from Membrane to Structured Ribs with Rebar Reinforcement. (DART laboratory)

ANN ARBOR – Researchers at the University of Michigan have developed a method to 3D print waste-free, ultra-lightweight concrete, which could bring down costs and make way for more ecofriendly structures in the construction industry.

Researchers Alireza Bayramvand and Yuxin Lin of U-M’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning’s DART lab and architect Mania Aghaei Meibodi found a way to create the new material. Their method, in comparison to conventional, solid concrete, is 72% lighter for the same size of material.

According to a U-M release, their discovery is leading to new patents beyond the university and new partnerships.

Until now, the most widely used approach to 3D concrete printing, or 3DCP, had geometric limitations that prevent the material from being printed in complex shapes.

“This leads to high concrete consumption and limits its application for lightweight forms that entail intricate shapes like branching and angular tubular forms, overhangs, layer cantilevers, and filament section or angle variations,” assistant professor of architecture at Taubman College Aghaei Meibodi said in a statement.

The U-M team developed a “Shell Wall” approach, which combines topology optimization, computational design and robotic 3D printing technology.

This method “eliminates unnecessary overbuilding with excessive amounts of materials,” Aghaei Meibodi said in a statement. “All of these factors combined mean that we can build better, more environmentally friendly structures at a lower cost.”

The construction industry has seen a rise in 3D printing due to its ability to produce structures quickly and complex shapes all while minimizing waste.

About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.