Concrete 3D Printing Technology at CERL Prints Barracks

3DPrinting_barracks_armyI was recently invited to the US Army’s Engineer Research and Development Center’s (ERDC) Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL) in Illinois to see a live demonstration of its Automated Construction of Expeditionary Structures (ACES) technology. Last year, the US Army used ACES to 3D print a complete barracks, or B-Hut, in 21.5 hours with the Army’s patented concrete mixture. However, that was just the total amount of print hours and not a continuous print.

Having only seen still images and video of this unique technology, I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see a 512 square foot barracks 3D printed live in front of my very eyes within 24 hours. So yesterday afternoon, I hopped in my car for the roughly four-hour drive out west to Champaign.

The goal for this ACES demonstration is to successfully 3D print the exterior concrete walls of an 8-foot building in 24 hours. While the ACES team and its project partner, Chicago-based architectural and engineering firm Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill (SOM), are both onsite, Marines from the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force are running the equipment; obviously, if the project is successful and this technology is able to be deployed overseas to our troops in the future, they will be the ones actually 3D printing the structures.

Benton Johnson, PE, SE, the Associate Director at SOM, told me yesterday that the Marines were briefed on the ACES technology and equipment via conference call and email. From the looks of things, they seemed to have gotten the hang of everything – preparing and mixing the materials, running the computer, cleaning up the printed layers by hand and clearing away material from the bolts, etc. Johnson pointed out that the main coder of the project was onsite, but only to offer assistance if needed.

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