3D printing may not yet have taken over day-to-day manufacturing, but the industry is continually surging forwards, producing ceramic inks that can create reshapable products and printed engines that can make rockets lighter and more efficient.
The latest innovation has come from Singapore, where a team of scientists have found a way of making cement fluid and quick-drying enough to be used by a large 3D printer. Their biggest breakthrough? The ability to 3D print an entire bathroom within one day.
The scientists, based at the Nanyang Technological University, say the new process can cut the time to build unfurnished and prefabricated bathrooms by 30%. This has the power to revolutionise the construction industry, making it safer, quicker, better for the environment and cheaper.
How it works
Concrete—made from geopolymers and other ‘green’ materials—is fed into a mixer, before being pumped out through a nozzle attached to a 6-axis robotic arm.
This arm moves around a predetermined area in a W-shaped lattice, a movement that not only saves material but also improves the product’s strength.
The cement dries quickly enough for the second layer to be applied on top immediately after completing one full cycle around the structure.
After the process is completed, relevant experts can install the sink, mirror, shower, toilet bowl, ceramic tiled walls and flooring—alongside concealed drains and piping.
The project is led by Professor Tan Ming Jen, with the collaboration of Sembcorp Design & Construction and Sembcorp Architects & Engineers.
He says that the new concrete process—which is currently completing tests for fire resistance and water absorption—could reduce construction and transport costs, as extra parts do not need to be ordered, and reduce waste and carbon emissions.
He also adds that by switching from human to robot labour on the construction site, safety would improve by avoiding the risk of accidents.
It’s hoped that the technology will have a real impact in Singapore, where many buildings are required by law to include prefabricated bathroom units in their construction processes.
The concept of fluid concrete could also have much wider applications across society—encompassing standalone units, storage buildings or even houses. The only limit—other than our imagination—is the size of the robot.