Part of the Horizon 2020 framework, the €4.8 million EU’s HINDCON (Hybrid INDustrial CONstruction) project aims to adapt additive manufacturing technologies to the construction sector. One of the primary goals of the project is the development of an “all-in-one” system advancing towards industrialization and overcoming the limitations of actual approach for introducing Additive and Subtractive Manufacturing in construction activities. The project, which started in 2016, has a duration of 36 months and will see the participation of France’s construction 3D printing experts XtreeE, among others.
With advanced commercial projects already underway in APAC (China, Singapore), MEMA (Saudi Arabia, UAE) and CIS (Russia, Ukraine, Kazhakstan), Europe is still focusing mainly on research projects through institutions such as Iaac and ETH. Nevertheless, Advanced Manufacturing has been highlighted by the EU as one of the key enablers to support and promotion of business research and innovation. Therefore, a number of objectives, aligned with pursuing the large-scale targets, have been set for advanced manufacturing through four pillars: technology, economic, social and environment.
“Huge efficiencies can be achieved because only the exact quantity of material needed is used,” explains HINDCON project coordinator Jorge Rodríguez of Vías y Construcciones in Vias, Spain. “It also gives the sector much greater flexibility in terms of what can be produced. It is too early to talk about results at this stage, but I can tell you that our aim is to achieve a 28 % reduction in manufacturing time compared with previous 3D printing techniques and a 60 % time reduction compared with traditional methods,” he says.
The main aim of the HINDCON project is to develop and demonstrate a hybrid machine, implementing 3D printing technologies with concrete materials, focused on the industrialization of the Construction Industry. As has been largely established, the benefits of AM technologies to the construction industry can be significant, from reducing the environmental impact to dramatically reducing economic costs. The ultimate goal of the HINDCON project is to incorporate this technology in manufacturing processes that also involve subtractive manufacturing (SM). This more conventional technique involves creating building products through the controlled removal of material from a block.
“A hybrid, all-in-one machine that combines both of these techniques could save the construction industry time and money through eliminating the need for separate post-processing,” explains Rodríguez. “This would mean that a lot of onsite finishing work would no longer be needed.”
The collaborative structure of the project will help to integrate different technologies that converge in a hybrid solution. The HINDCON “all-in-one” machine will integrate Additive Manufacturing concrete extruder and Subtractive Manufacturing toolkit with the use of cementitious materials including mass materials with alternatives in concrete and additives, and reinforced with composites.
HINDCON covers the different aspects concerned (technology, economic, social and environment) and demonstrate the hybrid machine from different perspectives. On the one hand, it includes testing basic capabilities of the integrated prototype in a laboratory. On the other hand, it involves the demonstration of the manufacturing system in a relevant environment.
Tapping 3D printing potential
AM technology allows for different shapes of materials to be produced much more efficiently. “The cost of producing building parts with the HINDCON machine will simply be determined by the volume and type of material needed; the complexity or shape of the design will not be part of the equation,” says Rodríguez. In practice, this means that new elements for façade renovation could be quickly produced after a simple analysis of the dimensions, shape and isolation required.
The HINDCON machine will also allow construction businesses to effectively implement just-in-time manufacturing techniques, which reduce or eliminate the need for stockpiles and reduce energy consumption. The machines will be placed near construction sites, also saving on transport.
Building for a sustainable future
HINDCON, which was launched in September 2016 and will last through September 2019, is currently looking at the best ways of combining AM and SM techniques ahead of building a prototype machine. Funded with a total of € 4,798,205, it involves companies and organizations in Spain (Coordinator), France, Romania, Germany, Norway, Denmark. The consortium also wants to show how its proposed solution can fit into the whole lifecycle of a construction project, from the design, direction and execution through to exploitation and dismantlement.
“If we’re talking about new building or civil works construction, it is important to note that building information modelling (BIM) tools are becoming standard,” explains Rodríguez. “Combining BIM and AM techniques will enable the construction sector to go directly from design to automated manufacturing, using manual labor just for the assembly stage. This will reduce the number of potential errors, as well as construction time and cost.”
The project also intends to push the envelope of what is possible in construction; the team plans to demonstrate at lab scale a method to substitute iron bars in structural elements by composite materials that can be ‘printed’ with equivalent mechanical properties at a reasonable cost and speed.
“Continuing this work in order to arrive at a commercial solution will be one of the next steps after HINDCON,” suggests Rodríguez. “Our project will also help to push European leadership in a new industrial key enabling technology in which other regions, notably China and the US, are putting in significant effort.”