3D Printing

Berkeley researchers pioneer new powder-based concrete 3D printing technique

Berkeley researchers pioneer n...
The Bloom pavilion is said to be the first and largest powder-based 3D-printed cement structure built to date (Photo: UC Berkeley)
The Bloom pavilion is said to be the first and largest powder-based 3D-printed cement structure built to date (Photo: UC Berkeley)
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We've reported on quite a few 3D-printed architectural projects, but this one is different (Photo: UC Berkeley)
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We've reported on quite a few 3D-printed architectural projects, but this one is different (Photo: UC Berkeley)
"While there are a handful of people currently experimenting with printing 3-D architecture, only a few are looking at 3-D printing with cement-based materials, and all are extruding wet cement through a nozzle to produce rough panels," says Rael (Photo: UC Berkeley)
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"While there are a handful of people currently experimenting with printing 3-D architecture, only a few are looking at 3-D printing with cement-based materials, and all are extruding wet cement through a nozzle to produce rough panels," says Rael (Photo: UC Berkeley)
The Bloom pavilion is said to be the first and largest powder-based 3D-printed cement structure built to date (Photo: UC Berkeley)
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The Bloom pavilion is said to be the first and largest powder-based 3D-printed cement structure built to date (Photo: UC Berkeley)
Rael and his colleagues have developed what they tell us is a "new type" of iron oxide-free Portland cement polymer formulation to create the freestanding pavilion (Photo: UC Berkeley)
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Rael and his colleagues have developed what they tell us is a "new type" of iron oxide-free Portland cement polymer formulation to create the freestanding pavilion (Photo: UC Berkeley)
The Bloom pavilion rises to 2.7 m (9 ft) in height, has a footprint of roughly 3.6 x 3.6 m (12 x 12 ft), and is built using a total of 840 customized blocks. (Photo: Tom Levy/UC Berkeley)
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The Bloom pavilion rises to 2.7 m (9 ft) in height, has a footprint of roughly 3.6 x 3.6 m (12 x 12 ft), and is built using a total of 840 customized blocks. (Photo: Tom Levy/UC Berkeley)
It appears rather more complex than other 3D-printed concrete structures we've previously seen (Photo: Tom Levy/UC Berkeley)
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It appears rather more complex than other 3D-printed concrete structures we've previously seen (Photo: Tom Levy/UC Berkeley)
Rael told Gizmag that technically, the current system of 11 printers can turn out 30 blocks per day – which could theoretically produce the Bloom pavilion in a total of 28 days (Photo: UC Berkeley)
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Rael told Gizmag that technically, the current system of 11 printers can turn out 30 blocks per day – which could theoretically produce the Bloom pavilion in a total of 28 days (Photo: UC Berkeley)
In all, the project took a year to design and complete (Photo: UC Berkeley)
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In all, the project took a year to design and complete (Photo: UC Berkeley)
The Bloom pavilion is said to be the first and largest powder-based 3D-printed cement structure built to date (Photo: UC Berkeley)
9/13
The Bloom pavilion is said to be the first and largest powder-based 3D-printed cement structure built to date (Photo: UC Berkeley)
We've reported on quite a few 3D printed architectural projects, but this one is different (Photo: UC Berkeley)
10/13
We've reported on quite a few 3D printed architectural projects, but this one is different (Photo: UC Berkeley)
"While there are a handful of people currently experimenting with printing 3-D architecture, only a few are looking at 3-D printing with cement-based materials, and all are extruding wet cement through a nozzle to produce rough panels," says Rael (Photo: UC Berkeley)
11/13
"While there are a handful of people currently experimenting with printing 3-D architecture, only a few are looking at 3-D printing with cement-based materials, and all are extruding wet cement through a nozzle to produce rough panels," says Rael (Photo: UC Berkeley)
The Bloom pavilion is said to be the first and largest powder-based 3D-printed cement structure built to date (Photo: UC Berkeley)
12/13
The Bloom pavilion is said to be the first and largest powder-based 3D-printed cement structure built to date (Photo: UC Berkeley)
The Bloom pavilion rises to 2.7 m (9 ft) in height, has a footprint of roughly 3.6 x 3.6 m (12 x 12 ft), and is built using a total of 840 customized blocks. (Photo: Tom Levy/UC Berkeley)
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The Bloom pavilion rises to 2.7 m (9 ft) in height, has a footprint of roughly 3.6 x 3.6 m (12 x 12 ft), and is built using a total of 840 customized blocks. (Photo: Tom Levy/UC Berkeley)

3D printing looks set to become very important in architecture, but we've yet to see exactly how the future of large-scale click-and-print construction will play out. A potential step forward comes via a team of UC Berkeley researchers led by Associate Professor of Architecture Ronald Rael, who recently created a free-standing pavilion called Bloom to demonstrate the precision of their powder-based cement method of 3D-printed construction.

We've previously reported on several 3D-printed architecture projects, including Andrey Rudenko's castle and Winsun's impressive feat of printing 10 houses in less than 24 hours. However, the method pioneered at Berkeley by Rael and his team is different to those, and rather than extruding wet cement, involves printing out thin layers of a special dry cement powder, each of which is then sprayed with water to harden the structure.

"While there are a handful of people currently experimenting with printing 3D architecture, only a few are looking at 3D printing with cement-based materials, and all are extruding wet cement through a nozzle to produce rough panels," says Rael, who is also a member of Emerging Objects, the group behind the Cool Bricks concept we recently covered.

Rael and his colleagues have developed what they tell us is a "new type" of iron oxide-free Portland cement polymer formulation to create the freestanding pavilion (Photo: UC Berkeley)
Rael and his colleagues have developed what they tell us is a "new type" of iron oxide-free Portland cement polymer formulation to create the freestanding pavilion (Photo: UC Berkeley)

So what's the benefit of this system over existing methods of extrusion? Well, using an iron oxide-free Portland cement polymer formulation developed by the team members, along with their system of 11 powder-based 3D printers, they can create a more complex and precisely finished structure than the extrusion method, and one which is reduced in weight and waste.

"We are mixing polymers with cement and fibers to produce very strong, lightweight, high-resolution parts on readily available equipment; It’s a very precise, yet frugal technique," adds Rael. "This project is the genesis of a realistic, marketable process with the potential to transform the way we think about building a structure."

To demonstrate this, the team produced the Bloom pavilion, which rises to a height of 2.7 m (9 ft) in height, has a footprint of roughly 3.6 x 3.6 m (12 x 12 ft), and is built using a total of 840 customized blocks connected with steel hardware. Its unusual appearance is partly due to the removal of the iron oxide, which is what gives cement its usual color, according to Rael. Each brick is unique, and creates a complex decorative pattern that lets some light pass through.

Rael told Gizmag that the current system of 11 printers could construct up to 30 blocks per day – which could potentially produce the Bloom pavilion in a total of 28 days. However, the actual project took around a year, including designing the parts, testing, building the printers, repairs and refinements, and the actual printing process.

Bloom is currently on display in Berkeley and will be disassembled and shipped to SRI in Thailand (the research and development division of Siam Cement Group, who provided financial backing and support for the research), where it will be exhibited and remain on display before visiting select locations worldwide.

Sources: Emerging Objects, UC Berkeley

5 comments
christopher
..."shipped to Thailand"... if it only takes 28days to make, shipping it instead of making another casts a load of doubt on what they say they've done.
Antony Innit
Perhaps it's a liiiie.. These bricks could have been made with a mould and then they Invented the story of the 28 3d printers... definately some other method of construction could have been used to make the pavilion and their team are sworn to secrecy about the truth, it's a dishonorable research establishmen 8D
Roger Garrett
So it appears that it's not printing it in place, like other cement printing devices, but rather printing out individual blocks which then have to be assembled and connected together with cables. Unless you really, really need to have thousands of individually designed blocks (as appears to be in their demonstration case) it makes no sense to use this technique.
chbo
This article again comments on Winsun's achievement of printing 10 houses in 24. It is month ago that this was shown to be a fake achievement. Just try to get a comment from the CEO of Winsun (Mr Ma) on there achievement and see how fare you get. An interesting story can be found here - http://3dprint.com/57764/winsun-3d-print-fake/
John Banister
These concrete objects are very beautiful, but I have to wonder how they'd hold up through repeated freeze thaw cycles in a climate with seasons. One thing that would be nice would be to print custom ICF blocks in fibre reinforced cellular concrete so that similarly beautiful structures could be assembled that keep the structural concrete and the building occupants insulated from temperature swings. Most current commercially produced ICF blocks can do square boxes and large diameter circles. Being able to custom print blocks that could be used to build organic shapes would be very nice.