Digital design tools revolutionised building design when first introduced and have been at its heart for decades now. But construction itself has remained a mainly manual process. In a major step forward for construction, Arup and CLS Architetti of Italy proved that a combination of digital design and 3D printing robotics could change all that with the first 3D printed concrete house in Europe in 2018.

From virtual to physical 

An automated workforce of 3D printing robots has constant access to the virtual design model to power the printing arm and reproduce designs in concrete. Being highly mobile, robots can now build onsite, allowing architects, engineers, and specialists to collaborate and resolve issues in real time without needing to cross-reference multiple models.

Developing automated construction techniques poses various challenges, one of which was to create a concrete mix that could keep pace with the super-human speed of the 3D printer and dry in record time. Our materials experts virtually modelled concrete mixes and drying times, developing a mix that could keep pace with construction.

Video still of 3D printed concrete house
The house featured a demanding design, with curved walls and a living area, kitchen and bathroom. It was assembled on a busy Milan square in just two weeks for the 2018 Salone del Mobile Design Festival.

The precise and eco-friendly builder

With the precision of 3D concrete printing, there is very little waste created when building with this method. Although concrete is a naturally sustainable building material, the printing process ensures every cubic centimetre of material is used. This benefit makes it much easier to calculate how much will be needed in the first place. 

With 32% of landfill waste currently generated by the construction industry, this is a great leap forward for sustainability and cost reduction. We are also experimenting with recycled concrete and natural fibres as building materials, which could bring down costs and allow local materials to be sourced.

The portable printer

Instead of printing uniform elements off site and transporting them, the CyBe Construction RC 3Dp Robot is mobile, agile, and can produce unique, curved elements on site. With this creative and technical flexibility matched with reduced costs and fast build times, it’s easy to understand the growing desire for adoption of 3D concrete printing across the industry.

Exterior view of a 3D printed concrete house
With a robotic arm that can extend up to 4.5 metres vertically we were able to construct a two-storey building in just 48 hours in a busy city square in Milan.

New solutions to old problems

Projects like Milan show how new technologies and creative thinking can be harnessed to solve long standing challenges. From duplicating structural models to addressing acute housing shortages, this combination of new technology gives us a unique opportunity to rapidly test and discover improved ways to redefine the built environment.