Print me some concrete
Nanyang Technological University (NTU) has launched a 3-D printing centre to prepare for the expected demand in future. Infographics journalist TEOH YI CHIE (email@example.com) finds out more
3-D printing is no longer just for hobbyists.
A new research centre called the Centre for 3D Printing was launched on Tuesday at NTU by Mr S Iswaran, Minister for Trade and Industry.
This new research centre has 3-D printers that can print metal, plastic, concrete and even circuit boards.
The centre's current focus is on the construction, maritime and aerospace sectors, areas of projected growth for Singapore's economy.
National Research Foundation Singapore has funded the centre with $42 million over 10 years. It has also attracted additional funding of $41m from the industrial sector and various government agencies.
3-D printing has numerous benefits. It is cost effective compared to current casting methods as no costly mould is required. Without a mould, there's also the flexibility of being able to create more complicated designs.
Scientists at NTU are currently working with industry partners to develop new processes for building and manufacturing. Current collaborators include Sembcorp Design and Construction, Keppel Offshore & Marine Technology Centre, ST Engineering and Emerson Process Management.
HOW 3-D PRINTING WORKS
For the 3-D concrete printer, the nozzle sprays liquid concrete layer by layer which hardens in less than an hour.
The 3-D printer is able to move its nozzle horizontally and vertically to create the design.
The printing process might differ depending on material used, such as for printing metal parts where metal powder is used.
The robotic arm can move in different directions.
A pump pushes liquid concrete through the pipe to the nozzle.
For maintenance, the pipe has to be cleaned so that it does not clog. Water, compressed air and a metal ball are run through the pipe to clear any obstruction.
The concrete is specially formulated so that it can flow through the nozzle. However, the concrete must not be too soft so that additional layers of concrete can be added.
It takes 30 minutes to harden and it's as strong as normal concrete.
It can be changed to different sizes or designs
ADVANTAGES OF 3-D PRINTING IN MANUFACTURING
More flexible designs are possible compared to traditional concrete casting methods. Designs that are warped or twisted can be easily 3-D printed.
The amount of waste is reduced because the 3-D printer uses the appropriate amount of material for printing and not more.
Some designs are just not possible to create with traditional methods. The set of gears shown above cannot be assembled if the parts are not 3-D printed together in the first place.
It cuts down cost of manufacturing. You do not need to create an expensive mould to cast a small quantity of products.