Wall of Wonders: OSU Engineering Students 3D Print Concrete Wall | New
After an afternoon of shoveling concrete into a trough, combined with 150 students over a three-year period and countless designs, Oklahoma State students 3D printed a concrete wall.
The idea of 3D printing a concrete wall was born for a multidisciplinary senior design project. From architecture to industrial engineering, this project brings together all types of engineers working on printing a concrete structure.
Self-proclaimed concrete monster Tyler Ley is a professor at OSU. He said the class focuses on posing tough problems and involving all areas of engineering. For this project, the students focused on the affordability of homes.
“Houses are a huge expense for people, just huge,” Ley said. “People pay for their house for about 50 years and if you can reduce the house by a factor of two, that means they would have so much more money to spend on all kinds of cool stuff in their life.”
Ley said they can 3D print everything, but that’s not his goal. It is a question of privileging the walls because they are the most expensive and the most difficult to build. Concrete walls also protect people from things like tornadoes, fires, and pests like termites.
The students had to develop a test to manually simulate the printing of the walls before moving on to using a 3D printer.
For this task, the students were creative.
Using everything from large bags of icing to extract the concrete and layer it, to a long pipe and plunger to squeeze the substance out and then stack it. Ley said the hose and piston test became known as the “oopsy test”.
Although many tests failed, the students were eventually able to stack the concrete about 5 feet high. In addition to testing the mechanics, the material itself had to be mixed well.
To help bond the aggregate concrete, Ley said he used a clay commonly used in the paint industry.
However, Ley said there was still a lot of work to be done and things could get better, but through every trial and error the students weren’t discouraged. They continued to work and succeeded.
“People who are just passionate about making a difference and believe in their hearts that they can make the world a better place than it was when they first got here,” said Ley. “And I work with these people every day. I can teach them who I research with. I can go out with them. Man, this is the best job ever.
Jim Beckstrom is a retired OSU professor and has worked with students throughout the project. Now he volunteered and watched the wall go up.
Before the wall was printed, Beckstrom said he worked two hours on the hydraulics to make sure the machines were running.
“So, you know, I wasn’t just moral support,” Beckstrom said.
He said 3D printing is a potential game changer in concrete construction. When building with concrete, he said people mainly use containers or barriers that hold the concrete in place, called shuttering. Beckstrom said it could eliminate processes such as forms of construction and potentially reduce labor requirements, time and costs.
Beckstrom said that because the Cooper Lab is a research center, the process of building the wall is different from what it would be on the ground. Because in the lab, people work on a smaller scale with shovels and wheelbarrows.
“In real life, what will happen is that the concrete will appear by the load of the truck,” Beckstrom said.
He said there were a lot of moving parts to do 3D printing. While there is a lot of work and research to do, Beckstrom said it is gratifying to witness the resilient reactions of students while working to create new building methods.
“There are so many opportunities in this thing to make a big difference in the world, it’s very exciting to think about it,” Beckstrom said.