Technology will help architects 3D print concrete moulds

A giant 3D printer capable of producing moulds up to the size of a phone box will allow architects to bring their creativity to life through the creation of freeform concrete designs. 

Architects have long complained that concrete forces their ideas into flat and angular shapes. However, a partnership of industrial 3D printing and 3D engineering company 3Dealise and Bruil, the construction company, has resulted in the development of a technology that brings freedom of design and other such benefits of 3D printing to large-scale concrete structures. 

According to its developers, the new technology will help architects as they are no longer constrained by technical limitations and can create irregularly curved surfaces, lightweight half-open mesh or honeycomb structures, and even ornamental craftwork.

/u/y/w/TE_Concrete_column.jpg

3Dealise’s printer can create moulds with a build volume of 1800 x 1000 x 700 mm within 24 hours. 

The moulds then receive a special treatment to enable later separation from the concrete, which is poured into the mould to create the design.

Bruil have created shapes from their range of concrete options including fibre-reinforced concrete, a material which allows the resulting structures to be used for real world applications.

When the concrete has set, the mould can be removed with pressurised water. The moulds can also be stacked like Lego to produce larger shapes.

‘When you cast concrete using sand, the sand sticks to the concrete,’ said 3Dealise CEO Roland Stapper. ‘We have developed a process to stop this happening. If you were pouring concrete into a wooden mould you’d coat the surface of the mould with oil to stop the concrete sticking to it. We have similarly developed substance here to stop the concrete sticking to the printed mould.’

Stapper explained that they are refining a process originally developed for the casting of metals.

‘Normally, metal is cast in sand – it is a process that has been used for around 4,000 years,’ Stapper said. ‘Using our printer we are essentially recreating this process, minus a step. As well as concrete, we can cast iron, steel, bronzes and so forth, and we are now looking at how to cast plastics and also rubbers – anything that you can pour, really.’