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The digital printing technology is primarily based on the principle of 3D printing technology
or additive manufacturing. The printing technique being used here is extrusion based printing.
In this process, the concrete is casted or printed layer by layer through automated process.
One of the major advantages of this printing technique can be attributed to less use of
formwork. But the major challenge associated is the performance of the printed structure
under load. We can broadly divide it into two conditions, one when the concrete is in its fresh
state and the other in hardened state.

Literature Review

The strength development in fresh state can be seen through buildability of concrete. The
concrete buildability allows for the maximum layer by layer deposition without collapse. It
actually depicts the maximum weight the layers can sustain in fresh state. The buildability is
affected by thixotropy of the material, strength gain due to hydration and also on the
rheological properties such as yield stress and plastic viscosity. The absence of formwork
makes buildability one of the most important factors for construction of the structures. This
gain of strength from fresh concrete to hardened concrete can be modeled considering the
effect of above mentioned factors. ETH Zurich invented a system called Smart Dynamic
Casting (SDC), this technique is similar to slipforming, but done with a flexible formwork. It
employs two different shaping methods, the first at the exit point, to have minimum
deformation. The other one globally, allowing variation in cross section. The continuous
inline measurements and automated feedback loops are used to get the load at the exit of the
formwork. The SDC used formwork pressure and friction measurements to define upper and
lower strength limits.

The hardened concrete properties control the strength parameters of the structure. In
extrusion based printing, one of the major challenges is bond formation between the layers.
Poor bonds among layers can significantly decrease the strength carrying capacity of the
structure. Modeling is to be done to derive a relationship between strength of the structure
and the printing properties. The 3D printed elements can be modeled using finite element
method; the model will provide the effect of load on the hardened properties of the structure.
In SDC method, the formation of layers is avoided.
The benefit of 3D printing is that, this technique enables the construction of elements of
creative shapes. The structural elements needed to withstand flexural tension along with
compression and as we know concrete is weak in tension. The bond between the layers is not
strong in resisting flexural tension and so reinforcement is needed to provide flexural strength
to the structural elements. Since the layer by layer approach requires no external vibration
while concrete casting, this may lead to weak bond formation between the reinforcement and
the concrete. The joint between the layers may also allow different corrosive agents to reach
the interior and affecting the serviceability of the structure. Though wire mesh can be used at
joints, this will not allow proper interlayer bonding. SDC technique developed by ETH can
easily incorporate reinforcements.

The methods of incorporation of reinforcements are discussed here along with possible
1. The core of the structural element is formed by traditional concrete casting with
reinforcements and to use 3D printed concrete over it as an outer layer like a formwork. Here
basically we are printing concrete formwork. Though this technique looks easy, it creates
major limitations for construction of architectural shapes.

2. The technique of forming a formwork using reinforcements, and placing the concrete on it
(mesh mold approach). In this technique we are using the mess as the reinforcement as well
as formwork. The problem may be of complexity in construction along with expensiveness.

3. To use pre-stressed cables placed inside or outside of the element. And the bond formed
between cement and cable due to layering of concrete is not adequate. The outer
reinforcement may need strong bond between concrete and the cable anchors.

4. Different fibers can be added to the concrete to make it strong in flexure and improve its
bonding. The orientation of the fiber plays a significant role for improving the mechanical
properties of the concrete structural element. The major limitation is the upper limit of tensile
strength, limiting the application of the 3D printed structures.
Similarity to Masonry Structures

The old architectural buildings used to be constructed with only compressive members. The
geometrical shapes like arches and vaults used to take the loads. The major challenge for a
building is construction of the roofs. The roofs in old masonry structures were majorly dome
shaped or cross vaults. If this can be constructed using 3D printers, the need of
reinforcements can be decreased to a large extent.

Problem Identification

The major challenges to be dealt are –

1. Modeling the strength gain of concrete in fresh state with respect to time.
2. Modeling the hardened properties of the 3D printed concrete.
3. Incorporation of reinforcement into the printed structure.
4. To model unreinforced structure similar to old masonry buildings.


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