Architecture

Lego-like 3D-printed beams offer lightweight alternative to concrete

Lego-like 3D-printed beams off...
According to research team behind them, the new 3D-printed beams weigh up to 80 percent less than standard concrete beams
According to research team behind them, the new 3D-printed beams weigh up to 80 percent less than standard concrete beams
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The Polytechnic University of Valencia research team with one of its 3D-printed beams
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The Polytechnic University of Valencia research team with one of its 3D-printed beams
A new beam design consists of a series of segments that can be 3D-printed using recycled plastics
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A new beam design consists of a series of segments that can be 3D-printed using recycled plastics
According to research team behind them, the new 3D-printed beams weigh up to 80 percent less than standard concrete beams
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According to research team behind them, the new 3D-printed beams weigh up to 80 percent less than standard concrete beams
Researchers at Spain's Polytechnic University of Valencia have spent the past few years working on a more manageable alternative for heavy reinforced concrete beams
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Researchers at Spain's Polytechnic University of Valencia have spent the past few years working on a more manageable alternative for heavy reinforced concrete beams
Individual segments of a new 3D-printed solution for structural concrete beams
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Individual segments of a new 3D-printed solution for structural concrete beams
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Reinforced concrete beams serve as important structural elements for buildings and bridges, but they are long and heavy and therefore require large machinery to both transport and install. Researchers at Spain's Polytechnic University of Valencia have spent the past few years working on a more manageable alternative, patenting a system that uses "Lego-like" segments of 3D-printed plastic that can be pieced together for significant savings on weight and construction time.

“Our goal was to propose an alternative to the current reinforced concrete beams," says Polytechnic University of Valencia's José Ramón Albiol. "These are made using profiles built for the length of the piece, which requires expensive installation and are hard to transport.”

The team has been developing its alternative for almost three years, and has now landed on a design it hopes can shake things up in the world of construction. The system consists of a series of individual segments that can be 3D-printed using recycled plastics, and can then be assembled on site and concreted over to form a structural beam. The internal composition of these individual segments is inspired by the way thick and compact human bones are formed, and offer the beams some useful properties.

Individual segments of a new 3D-printed solution for structural concrete beams
Individual segments of a new 3D-printed solution for structural concrete beams

“This is what we have transferred to these revolutionary beams, specifically to their profiles," says Albiol. "It is a very intelligent natural system and its reproduction in these beams awards them, with the low structural weight, very high mechanical capabilities.”

According to the team, the beams weigh up to 80 percent less than standard concrete beams, and feature no metal which eliminates the risk of corrosion. What's more, their 3D printed nature lends itself to easy customization, with the beams able to tailored to suit the necessary dimensions for the job at hand.

The Polytechnic University of Valencia research team with one of its 3D-printed beams
The Polytechnic University of Valencia research team with one of its 3D-printed beams

“To be able to customize the beams in situ makes it possible to adapt the characteristics of each of them to the structural needs at each point of construction," says team member Miguel Sánchez.

The team has patented its new design for structural beams, with a view to commercializing the technology.

Source: Polytechnic University of Valencia via AlphaGalileo

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7 comments
Bob Stuart
How do they transfer tension forces between sections in the lower flange?
Timothy Watjen
I think this is brilliant. I love how 3d printing is turning the whole manufacturing world upside down.... that being said, it introduces new challenges. New fire prevention/ detection techniques will be needed.
paul314
Although 3D printing gets you a lot of ease in prototyping, the visible shapes in those beams look as if they could be extruded, which would be much faster. The printing direction is also crucial, because most 3D printed objects are weaker across layer lines.
3dprinthefewchur
Would be neat to see the Greek columns or better yet the Panthenon 3d printed to scale. I'd like to see realistic 3d printed columns - doesn't matter what design on the interior of the column itself will look like, you can always surround it with whatever aesthetic finish. Would be neat to see a giant printer just dish out an entire Greek building, statues and details included, simultaneously I'm aware of the fact that smaller components can now be 3d printed at extraordinary detail using large format printers. Maybe one day we'll see designs like this 3d printed beam be used to build recreations of classic structures with no other purpose perhaps then to show it can be done and the finished product come out beautifully.
buzzclick
And how, pray tell, is this supposed to be as strong as reinforced concrete or steel? Furthermore, we know that concrete lasts longest in buildings on fire, and next would be steel, but you can expect these plastic beams to collapse/melt lickety split...
So it's a novel way of making beams with 3D printing, big deal. Strength and stability are more important.
Nobody
Concrete takes the compression load and steel takes the tension. How much tension will plastic take? Add in the melting plus fire hazard and plastic won't make a very good replacement for steel. A number of plastics also get brittle with age. Almost everything plastic in your house and car crack after a few years.
christopher
"and feature no metal which eliminates the risk of corrosion" - yeah - because corrosion is so much more horrific than structural collapse.

They seem to have also overlooked the other important reason why those pesky beams are formed and transported off-site: pre-stress - they don't work if you just make them in-place...