CHENNAI: THE IIT-Madras is taking first baby steps in 3D printing of concrete and will be introducing the revolutionary concept to the Indian construction industry by holding a global core group meeting on Tuesday, in which representatives from the United States, China, Germany and France will be participating.
The 3D printing of concrete is seen as the new phenomenon and the next big thing in construction industry that would call all the shorts a few years down the line. It would enable the architects and builders to embark on the most complex construction designs with ease, which have so far been impossible to achieve with conventional construction. Also, the researchers claim 3D printing is substantially quick. How about building 80 square metre houses in 3 days!
The Department of Mechanical Engineering at IIT Madras has already built a prototype of 3D printer for input materials such as polymer and metals and will soon be kick-starting their research in developing an indigenous 3D printer for concrete. Also, IIT-M has a strong team pioneering in concrete materials led by professors like Koshy Varghese and Ravindra Gettu of Department of Civil Engineering.
As a precursor to the global meet, a one-day international workshop was conducted on Monday at the Centre for Industrial Consultancy and Sponsored Research (IC&SR), where global players such as Hong Kong University of Science and Technology; Lafarge Holcim R&D, France; RAPIDS Construction Safety and Technology Laboratory, Stuffgart, Germany; University of California, Berkeley, US; and Technical University Dresden, Germany gave presentations on the progress of the 3D printing of concrete technology, its benefits and limitations.
Surendra P Shah, honorary visiting professor at IITM and professor emeritus at Northwestern University in the US, told Express on sidelines of the workshop that the concept is a game changer, but has a long way to go before actually 3D printing of the building becomes real. “Members of Indian Concrete Institute (ICI), Ready Mixed Concrete Manufacturers Association (RMCMA), L&T and Ultratech will seek clarifications on the technology at the global meet and come out with a position (white) paper,” Shah said.
Though the Indian construction industry at the outset seems to be excited about new emerging technology, the level of confidence of near future application is not so high. When Express spoke to the bigwigs of the industry, there were mixed reactions.
V Ramachandra, Technical Head, UltraTech Cement Ltd, said it’s too early to judge. “Yes, it has potential. Precast concrete, for example, in the last three years has gained lot of attention. But, in India, people see whether the technology has value for money. Even if 3D printing cuts down the time of construction and remains expensive, it will not taste success.”
However, B Sivarama Sarma, Head (R&D), L&T Construction, said that with availability of skilled labour being an issue, such technology should be promoted and put to use.
“Imagine, you are designing, choosing material including walls, roofs, floor, pillars etc. for your house. In Germany, there is a mall which sells only the building material. All we have to do is bring them and attach on site. It will be automated. 3D printing will cut the time and should cut the cost when scaled up. However, it will take at least a decade for it to emerge as alternative,” he said.
One of the organisers, MR Kalgal, president, Indian Concrete Institute (ICI), said India is the best growing superpower and has biggest construction industry. “We need to adopt the latest technologies to fill the gaps that cause project delays.”