Lobster-Inspired Patterns Make Stronger 3D-Printed Concrete

3D concrete printing (3DCP) is an emerging form of architecture that has incredible potential to save time, effort, and material in construction and promises to push the boundaries of architectural innovation. However, technical challenges remain in making 3D printed concrete strong enough to support more free-form architecture, such as arches and twisting or flowing structures.

Researchers from Australia’s RMIT University have turned to lobsters for inspiration on a solution to these limitations. The team developed a new 3D printing technique for concrete that makes it more robust by mimicking the curvy patterns found on hardy lobster shells.

Lobster-Inspired Patterns Make Stronger 3D-Printed Concrete
(Credit: RMIT University)

The RMIT team investigated different approaches to 3D-printed concrete, intending to create one that would open up new possibilities in strength and creativity. While concrete structures are formed by casting the material in a mold, those made using 3DCP are gradually formed by printing one layer at a time, on top of another, in parallel lines. The researchers decided to switch those lines up to create a new pattern.

As part of their experimental study, the team included 1 to 2% steel fibers in their concrete mix and explored various alternatives to the unidirectional patterns typically used in 3D printing. They found particular success in the helicoidal patterns, inspired by the lobster shell’s internal structure.

Lobster-Inspired Patterns Make Stronger 3D-Printed Concrete
(Credit: RMIT University via 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing journal)

Overall, their lobster-inspired patterns improved the 3D printed concrete’s durability and allowed the strength to be directed for structural support where needed. When the RMIT team combined the helicoidal patterns with the steel enhanced concrete mix, the resulting material was even stronger than traditionally-made concrete.

Dr. Jonathan Tran, the lead researcher of the study, explained:

Our study explores how different printing patterns affect the structural integrity of 3D-printed concrete, and for the first time reveals the benefits of a bio-inspired approach in 3DCP. We know that natural materials like lobster exoskeletons have evolved into high-performance structures over millions of years, so by mimicking their key advantages, we can follow where nature has already innovated.

According to the team, the enhanced strength achieved by these helicoidal patterns opens up opportunities for taller and more complex 3D printed concrete structures, giving architects more freedom to create. The RMIT researchers will explore these possibilities using a new 16 x 16-ft (5 x 5-m) mobile robotic printer, along with investigating how the 3D-printed concrete structures could be made with recycled waste materials.

Lobster-Inspired Patterns Make Stronger 3D-Printed Concrete
(Credit: RMIT University via 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing journal)

Dr. Tran concluded:

As lobster shells are naturally strong and naturally curved, we know this could help us deliver stronger concrete shapes like arches and flowing or twisted structures. This work is in the early stages, so we need further research to test how the concrete performs on a wider range of parameters, but our initial experimental results show we are on the right track.

The study was published on Dec 30, 2020, in the 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing journal, and for more information on the research, watch the video below.

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Lobster-Inspired Patterns Make Stronger 3D-Printed Concrete