Two for 3D Printing


I think 3D printing has many potential military uses and these two stories demonstrate the potential.

Researchers at the University of Sheffield have created a low cost disposable unmanned aircraft making extensive use of 3D printing

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3D printing unmanned aircraft is not new but it is an interesting story anyway.

And this one, looking at contour crafting, or 3D printing buildings. Although the details are a bit vague, the potential for military building is obvious

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This from me looks at the potential for printing or 3D contour crafting in military engineering

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3D software model direct automatic conversion to concrete structures? Very impressive, but equally scary. If I understand it right (in the UK) it takes a degree and several years experience to become an architectural technician and a further level of degree plus more years experience before being permitted to use the title Architect. Similarly it takes a degree and years of experience to be a civil engineer. All of this because there is a need to understand materials science, stressing, ground composition, wind loading impacts, temperature effects, watertable flood and drought, ground heave and subsidence etc etc etc before creating a structure considered safe for human occupation or use. How does this relate to an eager amateur with a basic CAD equipped PC scribbling out a best-guess shape for the concrete laying printer to squirt out?

On the military front, if this sort of thing is to be used, I strongly recommend its use only for making big solid blocks of concrete as replacement gabions, and not to build tank bridges over rivers or ravines.



It should not be a problem in the UK with all the building regs that you need to comply with, and the materials would need to be tested before they are assumed to meet the structural requirements. If I had the money I’d be looking to invest in this sort of technology with our housing problems.

Engineer Tom

@ Chris,

Unfortunatly anyone can call themselves an engineer in the UK without any qualifications, being chartered etc is how you show that you are qualified, but the majority of engineers aren’t chartered, not saying they aren’t capable of doing their jobs though, a good example is when virgin media send round an engineer, in a country where this title is protected they would send a technician, but here it isn’t protected and they think it sounds better. In the world of proper engineering (big bits of steel and little bits of carbon fibre) the proportion of engineers who are chartered is still quite low.


DN, cheaper to just use prefab concrete. If you have housing problems now, it’s not going to get better with more expensive houses. My sis does 3D printing for her designs, she’s an architect. One tube of plastic for the printer costs about 500 dollars (assume 250 pounds) and it really isn’t much, a glue gun sized tube.

How is raising the prices of houses going to solve your housing problem?


ET – agreed. It was pointed out by my English teacher a very long time ago that part of the problem (as he saw it) was the root of the word. In French he noted the word Ingénier was derived from the word for ingenious, whereas in English the word Engineer relates to engines. Therefore in France engineers are recognized as clever inventor types where in England engineers are blokes in greasy overalls who can fix things. Perhaps – and I know this is contentious – we should bring over the French spelling for the proper professional inventing designers and link it to approval/accreditation by the various institutions? Ingenier creates, engineer fixes?

Sorry. Daft suggestion. But without definitive and controlled segregation of creative engineers and those with technician skills, engineers will never reach the status they hold over the rest of Europe.



It would at first be cheaper to use prefab, but then we have the code for sustainable homes to contend with which takes into account the environmental impact of the building materials and transport etc. If you are printing on site it would be very competitive in terms of embedded energies, transportation and labour costs eventually. Like everything it will be more expensive to begin with but the rising shortage of affordable housing will make it economical (according to the CBI, 104,970 – The number of house constructions started in England in the year to March 2012, compared with the projected formation of 223,000 households a year).
Source: Department for Communities and Local Government, May 2012. Traditional methods of construction just won’t cut it and prefab concrete has a bad reputation in the UK due to the tower flats becoming sink estates and one collapsing due to a gas explosion, which would not have taken as many lives if the flats had been constructed without prefab concrete panels.


Had to look up the term “sink estates”. Are you sure the plastic is strong enough to take the weight of multi-story buildings? Or that it has a lesser environmental impact than concrete? What is the long term effect of acidic rain on the plastic and will dissolved plastic leech into the ground water? Lots of questions that need to be answered before deciding that plastic is the answer. Not to mention plastics come from oil, which ties the price strongly to oil prices which have been predicted to be on the up and up.

As for sink estates, can’t help you there if it is public perception. Maybe a new breed of high quality flats catering to the rich might change people’s opinions.


I think you are getting confused, the printer that constructed the buildings and the few companies/architects that looking into the technology use a cement/concrete material in the printer. Concrete reinforced with fibres have been used for a while now, there is a concrete that uses thousands of paper staples (not literally but thats what they resemble in size and shape) that are just thrown in when mixing that reduces the need for rebar for resiliance to tension.

Brian Black

Homes aren’t just built out of concrete though.

Print a concrete structure and you still have to shift all the manpower and materials to the site to plumb, wire, window, and insulate the building. With a prefab structure, modules or wall sections can be fitted out more completely on a production line and rapidly assembled on site the moment planning is approved.



Yeah your right but at the moment it takes 14 weeks to construct a house and most of that is the construction of the walls etc before you can weatherproof it and then add all the first fix etc. You are also correc vt in the use of SIPs panels over traditional construction, as they can be pre plumbed, but they are aslo classed as non traditional construction and therefore sometimes have trouble with attracting mortgages and planning. A timber frame house can be erected in a day (world record at thye moment) so are also capable of savings through material waste and time. However when it comes to domestic buildings they are usually clad with bricks (due to planning) which then adds time and cost to the construction.

3D printings advantage is that if you are using a brown field site the existing buildings can demolished and the materials processed on site and used directly in the construction of the new buildings, saving a very large cost in disposal and buying of new materials.


DN, slip of the mind on my part.

I got an email at work today from Groundforce Shoreco who do giant Meccano for holding up excavations, here’s a link to their Technical Director’s blog. The use of analytical models is combined with additive technology to develop practical products.

Not that there isn’t a place for automation on the building site, but I expect it will lend itself to large well ordered sites and there are existing technologies to speed construction there. Precast concrete, timber frame, hot rolled steel frame and cold rolled steel frame can all be built quickly and reasonably cheaply. Additive technology lends itself to niche products. Particularly with wide variation.

I have heard of a company in Germany that can make individual ceramic tiles shaped to cover any solid that can be modelled on a computer. Each tile passes over an array of pins on the way to the kiln. The pins whiz up and down shaping every tile individually to fit.

Aluminium gutters can be formed on site from coiled strip that are much longer than could be transported.

If the concrete printer looks unwieldy today, remember what mobile phones looked like thirty years ago. We’ll still face houses in brick for a long time to come, not because of tradition but in our climate it is exceptionally well suited and durable.

For Civil Engineers look also under Boring as Yellow Pages used to say.


I’m not sure brick cladding will still be the norm in the future, as it stands now with the code for sustainable homes it takes a 300mm thick traditional brick and block wall to meet the specifications for thermal efficiency where as timber frame can achieve the same level with a less thick wall and therefore smaller footprint. With modern heating systems using lower temperatures and more efficient emitters, the thermal efficiency and air tightness becomes more crucial to retain the heat from air changes, which is also easier to achieve with timber.

Houses cannot realistically shrink in size internally from what they are now, this means developers will need to switch from brick and block to squeeze as many houses as they can on the plot. Once the general public are used to the idea of alternative methods of construction differing materials for cladding will be easier for the public to accept.

Thanks for the link DV, BIM is going to be a game changer within the construction industry as well.

DN don’t mention CFSH it is the bane of our lives. For those lucky enough not to have met it, it is a rag bag of requirements intended to show the sustainability of a development, it is irrational and checks only what is easy to check.. HSE is abolishing CDM Co-ordinators in the next revision of the regs so there will be plenty of applicants for the code assessors’ course.

You get points for how close you are to a bus stop as though that was something one could change.

I am reminded of Simon Raven’s fictional SSM who never went on recce without a signboard saying “In this field X heroes of the resistance were brutally murdered by the Nazi’s” so his squadron could harbour up in a gestie. Whenever they come to the public transport point I suggest they bring their own Bus Stop.

You also touched on another of my bêtes noires; architects who design to internal wall dimensions not external brick dims. Then when all the working drawings are done the contractor who has been fast asleep during the design development has a hissy fit and all the dimensions change by just a little bit. What a waste of time and effort.

I shall have to change my name to Grumpy Southern Boy.


DV, yeah the code is a lot of box ticking and some of it was definately devised by a comittee who have no real knowledge of the subject. Some of it though I like such as the efficiency and design of the buildings, it starts to fall down with the use of renewables and what it classes as sutainable and of course the social aspects not forgeting the points you get for a bike rack ;-)


Never mind 3D printing. You want one of these;