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U.S. Army seeks commercialization of 3D printed cement barracks

Ordered, concrete, and spanning 512 square-feet, the Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL) in Champaign, Illinois, has revealed the successful construction of its first 3D printed barracks hut.

The B-Hut is a product of the lab’s Automated Construction of Expeditionary Structures (ACES) project, that is now seeking commercialization with a North American industrial corporation.

Expeditionary structures on-demand

The semipermanent B-Hut was made using a 3D printer made from a sliding metal gantry.

CERL ACES gantry 3D printer. Army photo by Mike Jazdyk
CERL ACES gantry 3D printer. Army photo by Mike Jazdyk

According to Dr. Michael Case, CERL ACES program manager, “ACES provides a capability to print custom designed expeditionary structures on-demand, in the field, using locally available materials.”

Such huts would typically be constructed using plywood. By comparison, locally sourced cements reduces the cost of shipped building materials by half. Automation additionally saves manpower requirements by 62 percent.

Demonstrating the 3D printing of a barracks hut, ACES also shows potential for constructing other infrastructural essentials such as barriers, culverts and obstacles.

ACES concrete deposition. Army photo by Mike Jazdyk
ACES concrete deposition. Army photo by Mike Jazdyk

A game changing 3D printer

Other cement printing techniques, as seen at MIT and Apis Cor, have used moving robotic arms for depositing layers.

According to Dr. Michael Case, CERL ACES program manager, the ACES technology “is a real game changer” in the field. He says,”Unlike previous efforts, ACES can use up to 3/8 inch aggregate in the concrete that is used.”

“In addition, the ACES project paid particular attention to methods of reinforcing printed concrete, both horizontally and vertically.”

Cement barracks hut 3D printed at the Construction Engineering Research Laboratory in Champaign, Illinois. Army photo by Mike Jazdyk
Cement barracks hut 3D printed at the Construction Engineering Research Laboratory in Champaign, Illinois. Army photo by Mike Jazdyk

Corporate partnership

CERL is an integral part of the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center headquartered in Vicksburg, Mississippi. In addition to army researchers, CERL has received ACES support from NASA, and is planning to release their generation cement printed September 2017.

CERL has also established a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with North America’s Caterpillar Inc. In the agreement, Caterpillar will help CERL explore commercialization opportunities for the technology, potentially bringing ACES response to disaster relief operations and application in other construction projects.

In the interest of expediting military response, the U.S. Marines are currently assessing the utility of a self-contained fabrication laboratory for 3D printing in remote locations.

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Featured image: Cement barracks hut 3D printed at the Construction Engineering Research Laboratory in Champaign, Illinois. Army photo by Mike Jazdyk

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