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Is 3D-printed concrete the future for breakwater units?


3D-printed construction is increasingly being researched as the futuristic solution to the many hurdles that the construction industry faces. Utilising 3D-printing for concrete eliminates the cost of framework, expensive materials such as timber, and lends architects more flexibility in creating innovative designs.  

Breaking news is that a joint research project to develop sustainable concrete mixtures suitable for the 3D-printing of breakwater units has been launched. Breakwaters are structures that are constructed near the coasts as part of coastal management or to protect an anchorage from the effects of both weather and longshore drift. The South African-designed dolos is the most famous local example of this type of industrial design using concrete, in this particular context.

PPC Imaginarium

The new breakwater research project is a collaborative effort by Ghent University in Belgium, construction company BESUX, start-up ResourceFull and engineering company Witteveen+Bos. The project aims to contribute to more sustainable and innovative solutions in hydraulic engineering, and as such, will have relevance to shorelines, docking at ports and harbor structures. The research is being funded by The Strategic Initiative Materials (SIM) and Flanders Innovation & Entrepreneurship (VLAIO).

A major construction cost for breakwater units involves the logistical resources to the move the breakwater units from the yard to the construction site. As 3D-printing provides construction companies the opportunity to print the units onsite, a hefty cost is potentially slashed.

Additionally, 3D-printing lends itself to printing units that are area-optimal and tailor-made. This allows for more complex and optimised shapes that are in line with the wave patterns and sea currents. Another advantage of 3D-printing would be that the layered surface that is expressed through the 3D-printing technique allows for additional energy dissipation.

PPC Imaginarium

However, as with most novel techniques, 3D-printing such massive units presents its own difficulties. Due to the high binder contents currently used in printable concrete mixtures, thermal cracking is a high possibility. Moreover, shrinkage cracks are a risk during the drying stage with this automated production technique.

Forging forward, the research partners are looking to develop a printable mixture that can meet the demands of all the requirements to print secure breakwater units. This improved mixture will also need to meet a standard of environmental impact. Once these problems are resolved, scale model breakwater units will be printed to test their durability and performance.


Image Credits: Witteveen Bos

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