In the future, structures will be created onsite by 3-D printers, and the construction and manufacturing industries will have much more in common, said Zofia Rybkowski, Texas A&M associate professor of construction science, who is part of an award-winning, multidisciplinary Texas A&M faculty team envisioning how buildings can be better built with emerging technology.
Their ideas, presented at a June 18–22 manufacturing research conference in College Station, Texas, earned the Dornfeld Manufacturing Vision Award, a National Science Foundation-sponsored accolade recognizing visionary concepts with the potential to influence the future of manufacturing investigation and education.
The opportunities with large-scale 3-D printing are vast, said Rybkowski. It has the potential to revitalize aging infrastructure, accommodate shifting and growing populations, and strengthen national resilience through faster and higher-quality rebuilding capabilities.
“At some jobsites, robots and printers are already fabricating building elements,” said Negar Kalantar, a Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station research associate and former College of Architecture faculty member on the team. “Because this is just the start of the construction industry’s embrace of manufacturing practices, there is an urgent need to rethink building design and construction practices and develop and test new cost-effective manufacturing methods and materials.”
Rybkowski and Kalantar’s visions are informed in part by their work researching and developing environmentally responsible 3-D printing materials, a new effort funded by a $500,000 X-Grant from the President’s Excellence Fund.
Other countries are already investing in advanced digital manufacturing but the United States, once a research powerhouse, is falling behind, according to a global manufacturing research group’s report. In Europe, a large-scale 3-D printed building in France and a Madrid-based printed pedestrian bridge were both unveiled in 2016. The continent’s first 3-D printed house was shown at a design festival in April 2018.
“While researching for this competition, it became apparent to the team that a global 3-D printing leader has yet to emerge,” Rybkowski said. “For the U.S. to attain this leadership role in civil infrastructure, investment needs to be made in multidisciplinary research spanning manufacturing, engineering, architecture, construction and computer science.”
Alaa Elwany, assistant professor of industrial engineering, led the interdisciplinary team, which also included Zachary Grasley, professor of civil engineering; and Stephanie Paal, assistant professor of civil engineering.