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Minerals help speed up 3D Construction Printing process

3D printing technology is increasingly popular in the construction industry, as its use in layering concrete has both environmental and societal benefits.

3D printer for building construction

3D printing is a process that turns digital models into physical objects, typically achieved by layering material then using computer-aided design (CAD) to make it three-dimensional. 

Materials such as plastics, metals and ceramics have all been used successfully in this process, and today the technology’s application is being investigated in a wide range of industries. In construction, concrete is used in this process – referred to in the industry as 3D Construction Printing (3DCP), also known as 3D Concrete Printing – and its advantages and challenges are being assessed. 

Minerals can improve the properties of concrete used in 3D printing, and with a world-class portfolio of minerals to hand, Imerys can help to deliver these key functions.

Improving the performance of 3D printer ink for construction applications

Much like with regular printing, you need the right “ink” for the job when it comes to 3D printing. In 3DCP, the concrete acts as the ink – and the better the concrete, the better the outcome. 

Imerys has been adding value to concrete through its minerals for over 100 years, and as a leading minerals supplier and innovator can offer expertise on formulation. 

Hervé Fryda, Imerys’ Science & Technology Director for Building & Infrastructure, says: “We offer a number of complex minerals that play different roles in improving concrete. For example, calcium aluminates can accelerate the hardening of concrete layers, which increases the vertical building speed, while metakaolin and bentonite can improve concrete printability .”

While still a niche technology, at present the key application of 3D Construction Printing is in the layering of concrete to build structures. Imerys can support suppliers in this process by helping them to produce set-on-demand concrete. This will be useful in 3DCP as each layer of concrete quickly sets before the next layer is poured on, resulting in improved productivity  and more reliable structures.

Advantages of 3D Construction Printing

Using 3DCP to layer concrete reduces waste, improves efficiency and supports customization.

A key benefit of 3D printing is its ability to reduce waste – something that is a priority for the construction industry,” says Claire Brown, an Imerys expert in the Building & Infrastructure segment 

The technology uses the exact amount of material necessary to make a product, providing an efficiency gain that could pave the way for zero-waste projects in the future. This in turn would contribute to reducing the environmental impact of construction projects.” 

Automating tasks like concrete layering also allows sites to be more efficient as it quickens the process, reducing the length of projects. 

3DCP technology can support affordable housing projects, thanks to the cost savings and efficiency gains realised from the economical construction process,” says Claire. 

Furthermore, the automation can support worker health as it prevents workers from having to perform such a labour-intensive task during adverse weather conditions like high heat. 

3D Construction Printing also has the capacity to standardize and customize architecture.

Users can feed a standardized model into a 3D printer, which can then reliably and repeatedly churn out the exact same structure,” says Hervé. “This would be of most interest in cases where there is a sense of urgency, for example providing shelter to people displaced by a natural disaster, or where a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach is warranted."

In terms of customization, it may be possible to create different kinds of residential buildings from a standardized model, customized according to customers’ needs and wishes.” 

Additionally, 3D-printing concrete can create designs that are significantly more complex or unusual than the norm, whether for aesthetic or functional purposes. 

3D printing’s future in construction 

3D printing is unlikely to be a complete replacement for traditional methods, and there’s still a long way to go before it becomes more mainstream. While construction technologies continue to advance, construction methods are not progressing at the same rate. There are lots of reasons for this, but cost and safety play a big role – construction methods have to be suitably tried and tested before they can be introduced.

3D printing has highly valuable potential in the construction industry, however, and as an active participant in this technology’s development, Imerys is available to support potential partners with both mineral applications and formulation expertise.

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