Credit: Joris Laarman Lab.

  • Innovation


From concrete to stainless steel, 3D printing is building bridges like this 12 meter long to cross one of the oldest canals in Amsterdam.

ISABEL RUBIO | Tungsteno

3D printers are used to create prostheses, customise dishes in restaurants, or manufacture makeup instantly. They can also be used to print toys, sculptures or even tumours in 3D in order rehearse the operations that pose the greatest risk to children. This technology, which has had a great impact in fields such as medicine and food, has even revolutionised engineering with the construction of bridges, houses and other infrastructure. Here we review some of the most noteworthy projects in the sector.

A house in less than 24 hours

One of the main advantages of 3D printers is the speed in creating new homes. There are already projects that have demonstrated the ability to build a house in less than 24 hours. For example, Apis Cor has constructed its first low-cost printed home in the Russian city of Stupino in just one day. It is a 38-square-metre house that cost about $10,000 to build.

Meanwhile, some companies are opting for the construction of large buildings. The Chinese firm WinSun has erected a five-storey block in the Asian country using 3D printing technology. And even different companies in Singapore have announced their intention to start printing skyscrapers with this technology.

Create stable homes more quickly and at a lower price, one of the benefits of 3D printing, which allows you to build houses in 24 hours. Credit: ICON.

A village to say adios to shantytowns

In Latin America there are many shantytowns unable to withstand severe storms or other inclement weather. This could change thanks to 3D printers. The technology company Icon, the non-profit organization New Story and the designers of Fuseproject have teamed up to build a complete village printed in 3D.

The aim of this project, of which many details are still unknown, is to exchange these shacks and huts of the village for more stable constructions and for a price much lower than what a traditional house would cost. The new structures will house 400 people from a Latin American village whose name has not yet been made public. The architects of the initiative assure that they have already engaged with the community for its development.

Barracks for the army

3D printers allow infrastructure to be built without the need for a lot of manpower, and they can also work tirelessly. The U.S. Marine Corps Systems Command used a printer to create a prototype of a 46-square-metre concrete barracks in just 40 hours. Normally this type of work would be done by 10 Marines, who would take five days to construct a wooden barracks hut.

This technology could be used not only in military environments, but also in humanitarian environments to help relocate people more quickly. The U.S. Marine Corps has also used these printers on other occasions, for example on the battlefield to make parts on the spot and repair their equipment without having to wait for them to be shipped from some base or other country.

The “Print Your City” project prints street furniture from designs proposed by the citizens using recycled material such as plastic. Credit: The New Raw.

Street Furniture

In addition to houses and barracks, 3D printing can also be useful for equipping cities. One company is using it to turn plastic waste into street furniture. The project, called "Print Your City", arose out of a collaboration between The New Raw and Coca-Cola. Its two founders believe that plastic has always been misused, as users use it and throw it away without taking advantage of its durability.

Among the street furniture that has already been manufactured with this material are benches, flowerpots and rubbish bins. Each object takes about 12 hours to print and is composed of an average of 100 kilograms of plastic. Today, any Greek citizen of Thessaloniki can design new street furniture for their neighbourhood on the Print Your City website. Residents have already submitted more than 3,000 designs since December 2018 with the aim of creating this street furniture and, in the process, recycling.

Concrete or stainless steel bridges

China has the longest 3D printed concrete bridge in the world. Situated in Shanghai, it is 26.3 metres long and 3.6 metres wide and was designed by Professor Xu Weiguo of Tsinghua University. Before finally building the bridge, the experts made a prototype that underwent various tests. The final model was made with two 3D printers in 450 hours, or about 18 days.

In recent years, multiple bridges have been built with this technology. There are many examples, such as a bridge in a Shanghai park about 15 metres long and four metres wide that took 35 days to build and is expected to have a useful life of 30 years, or a bridge about 12 metres long made of stainless steel to cross one of the oldest and most famous canals in central Amsterdam - the Oudezijds Achterburgwal.

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Tungsteno is a journalism laboratory to scan the essence of innovation. Devised by Materia Publicaciones Científicas for Sacyr’s blog.

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