One story from March 2021 caught our eye. It talks about researchers from the Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV) who have come up with and patented a new system for manufacturing beams that aims to revolutionize the architecture, construction and civil engineering sectors. These beams are manufactured with 3D-printed plastic pieces and can be assembled as if they were pieces of Lego, adding a high-performance layer of concrete in the most compressed area.
According to its creators, there are several advantages to its beams. For starters, they weigh up to 80% less than concrete or metallic beams, which means that no heavy cranes or lorries are needed to carry and install them. Also, they save time and money on labor and materials, and they can be printed and assembled “in situ” — which facilitates their installation anywhere, regardless of how difficult it is to reach. Like that’s not enough, recycled plastics are used as the raw material, giving a new life to this product and thus helping move towards more sustainable construction.
The development of these innovative beams is the result of almost three years of research. “Our goal was to propose an alternative to the current reinforced concrete beams. These are made using profiles built for the length of the piece, which requires the expensive installation and are hard to transport,” says José Ramón Albiol, lecturer at the Higher Technical School of Construction Engineering (ETSIE) of the Polytechnic University of Valencia.
Following numerous hours of tests and trials, the combination of 3D printing, plastics and concrete provide optimum results.
The main novelty here is in the polymeric profile of the beam, which is composed of multiple longitudinal segments that can be assembled and concreted where you wish to install the structure. The beam is reinforced with elements that ensure the structure’s rigidity and which have no metallic component.
“This prevents corrosion, decreases the weight and simplifies the work time required,” adds Xavier Mas, from the Institute for Heritage Restoration (IRP) of the Polytechnic University of Valencia.
The system also removes the need for costly formwork and bending, making it possible to work without having to stop traffic at the infrastructure that is being worked on.
Plus, the internal (alveolar) structure of the polymeric profiles makes it possible to decrease the amount of plastic used — and therefore its weight — while maintaining structural rigidity.
This alveolar structure was inspired by human bones around the epiphysis, where there is a layer of cancellous bone with a trabecular disposition — the alveolar structure — and a thicker external layer of compact bone. “This is what we have transferred to these revolutionary beams, specifically to their profiles. It is a very intelligent natural system and its reproduction in these beams awards them, with the low structural weight, very high mechanical capabilities,” adds José Ramón Albiol.
3D printing makes it possible to manufacture customized pieces very near the area of implementation, which also simplifies transportation, saves costs and facilitates customization. “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. The possibility to recycle polymeric materials to produce the beams significantly decreases their carbon footprint,” concludes Miguel Sánchez, from the Department of Systems and Computer Science (DISCA) of the UPV.
These beams can be 3D printed from recycled plastic right on the construction site, saving time and money on transportation. Also, they are up to 80% lighter than concrete or metal beams, which reduces dependence on heavy cranes or trucks to transport and install them. Plus, since they do not contain metal, the risk of corrosion is eliminated.
The team patented their new construction beam design in order to commercialize the technology.
These 3D-printed beams sound like a dream come true for solving the affordable housing conundrum. They can deliver more affordable homes for those in need and could thus help your municipality deal with this (pressing) issue. So, you'll want to explore some sort of partnership with these researchers and the construction companies they work with. Aside from helping your city/town, this could also be a career-changing move for you. So, think about it.
You may want to contact the researchers behind these 3D-printed plastic beams and see whether you could bring their technology to new places. From what we're getting, no special skills are needed except to know how to operate a 3D printer. Once you master that skill set, you should be able to build houses in the municipalities your business serves — offering them the solution for the affordable housing problem. Shouldn't be a hard sell when you think about it.