Skanska will work a two year timeline developing their own 3D concrete printing robot.
Despite the industry’s still persistent resistance to technology, construction tech has become the standard of operation. International construction conglomerate, Skanska, is yet another major industry leader taking the reigns on developing construction tech. Several months ago, they announced plans to continue their design and development of what they hope will become the world’s first commercial 3D concrete printing robotic. They have given themselves until 2019 to do so, an endeavor that is likely to be rife with competition; similar construction tech already exists via the likes of Dubai’s 3D printed concrete drone lab and MIT’s self-sufficient robot builder.
While Skanska has been working on a prototype for nearly two years already with NYC-based partners, Foster + Partners, they just recently accelerated their timeline by becoming the first construction company to join the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC). The MTC is a research institute in England that partners with some of the UK’s leading global manufacturing firms in an effort to join University-based research and the real-life development of innovative manufacturing solutions together.
According to Skanska UK innovations manager David Lewis, the point of becoming part of the MTC is to speed up their work. He explained it like this,
“Up until December we were doing everything ourselves and had taken it as far as we could do, but by joining MTC we now have a proper lab and research facilities to conduct further tests and work on the project full-time.”
And it is their deal with the MTC that saw Skanska at the receiving end of $1,271,930. Impressive other names in the industry have been attached to Skanska’s million-dollar construction tech project since its inception. Tarmac, a UK building materials company will provide the concrete mixes, Fosters + Partners will provide and carry out all component designs, and Swedish-Swiss robotics specialists, ABB, is providing equipment. With so many names attached to the project, Skanska’s own version of a 3D concrete printing robot meant for commercial use is highly anticipated.
With a working prototype Skanska has yet to reveal to the public, the company’s 3D printing robot is refined in a way others are not. It can fabricate precise concrete structures using various concrete mixes, with a focus primarily on cladding for buildings. Lewis says that Skanska is working on currently 3D printing “very difficult precast components, with overlays and voids.” This is in stark opposition to the approach their peers have taken, where 3D printing whole buildings is the end-goal.
Still amid the process of trial and error, however, Skanska is experimenting with what shapes they can create out of their 3D printing system. So far, they have been confined to cladding and coating for buildings and other structures as opposed to load-bearing structures. They are also trying to 3D print with rebar, meant to reinforce the concrete.
At the heart of Skanska’s vision for a commercial tool is, of course, the 3D printer itself. Taller than an average-sized person, the printer is a 6-axis robot fitted with a computer-controlled printer nozzle. The nozzle is attached to a gantry and a robotic arm responsible for extruding high-performance concrete and single beads of concrete roughly 10 millimeters in diameter. It can print with several different kinds of concrete mixes and pours the concrete in thin strips, layer by layer, until it has created a stable 3D printed structure.
With little over two years to go, Skanska’s own construction tech project has generated real-world interest already. Government-owned company, Highways England, who manages all major roads and highways in England, has expressed turning to Skanska’s 3D printing robot to redo many of the country’s highway systems.