UA Awarded $3.5M to Advance 3D Concrete Printing

UA Awarded $3.5M to Advance 3D Concrete Printing
Michelle Barry, left, and Wenchao Zhou (University of Arkansas)

The University of Arkansas College of Engineering has been awarded $3.5 million to research ways to improve the 3D printing of concrete and indigenous soils for horizontal construction done by the U.S. military.

The grant comes from Applied Research Associates, a research and engineering firm headquartered in New Mexico, as part of a larger $12 million grant awarded by the U.S. Army Engineering Research and Development Center.

Researchers will work to identify optimum design patterns and indigenous materials that can be used for constructing culverts, T-walls, Jersey barriers and other horizontal structures, the U of A said in a news release.

They'll also develop printing instructions for mobile robots that can be deployed quickly on site, and exploring new material structures and geometric configurations that maximize performance and efficiency. That includes examining biomimetic structures, or structures that mimic naturally occurring designs, such as honeycombs.

Michelle Barry, an associate professor of civil engineering, will serve as the principal investigator of the two-year grant. She'll be cataloguing and characterizing a range of indigenous soils to determine their suitability for incorporation into concrete.

“Humans have been building with soils for thousands of years, but 3D printing soils enables us to use soils in new and exciting ways. We can build structures or roads in disaster relief areas,” she said in the release, “where you're just bringing in a piece of equipment because you might not be able to bring in other construction materials. If the local soils will work, you print with them for the time being, people are sheltered and then once it's not needed, it dissolves back to the original landscape.”

Wenchao Zhou, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, and Cameron Murray, an assistant professor of civil engineering, will serve as co-principal investigators on the project. 

Murray, who specializes in concrete, will assist with analyzing the composition of the concrete and large-scale testing of experimental forms.

Zhou is the director of the Advanced Manufacturing, Modeling and Materials Lab at the U of A and the co-founder of AMBOTS, a local startup that will lead software development for 3D-printing robots.