Last week I had the unique opportunity of attending the Digital Concrete 2020 event sponsored by Sika, Twente Additive Manufacturing, Weber Beamix, BEKAERT, Rilem, O-BASF, and DOW chemical. Every 2 years this event is held to highlight innovations in the future of concrete, generally it is an in person event however obviously this year it was moved online. In total there was over 1200 pages of research papers, over 100 presentations exclusive to attendees and 12 hours public YouTube footage.
From bridges to buildings construction techniques are evolving at a pace never seen before and considering construction is the biggest industry in the world, these changes will have significant effects related to efficiency, safety, sustainability, and affordable housing.
Engineering is complicated but anyone can understand the basics of printed concrete. All of these innovations fall into three important categories. Many topics discussed relate to the synergies between these categories but everything directly relates to at least one, Material, Printer, or Design.
People are experimenting with all kind of materials like dune sand, aircrete, dirt, salt, fly ash, metakaolin, Fe rich slag, and fibers like wollastonite fiber or polypropylene fiber.
There are many types of printers, most fall into the category of gantry style or robotic arm but many are a combination of both for maximum mobility.
There is much debate over the best method of reinforcing these large structures especially when trying to make them larger scale. Some companies have a mix that does not require post processing and others use rebar wire or screws to attain more structural integrity. There is also debate in onsite vs offsite printing and whether or not to use accelerant.
Design is a critical part of the process, without quality design the potential of these technologies would be squandered. The beautiful part is these technologies permit existing software for parametric design to be used to its full potential.
If you are interested in the future of construction then I would highly recommend attending the next Digital Concrete event in 2022 as I am sure there will be many significant developments in this field by then. I put together this video of highlights but it was very difficult to pick only 10 minutes from the 12 hours of event footage, you can watch the whole thing on the 3D Concrete Printing TUe YouTube page.