3D-printed construction seems a good fit for the military. The emerging technology is relatively portable and inexpensive, and could potentially even save lives if it means soldiers receive a safe barracks in a shorter time. With this in mind, the US Marine Corps Systems Command (MCSC) recently constructed a prototype concrete barracks in under two days with what it calls the world's largest 3D printer.
MCSC's Additive Manufacturing Team collaborated with I Marine Expeditionary Force to build the prototype barracks at the US Army Engineer Research and Development Center in Champaign, Illinois.
The 3D printer was used to build a basic barracks hut measuring 500 sq ft (46 sq m) in just 40 hours. According to MCSC, it normally takes 10 Marines five days to construct a similar hut out of wood, so that's a significant improvement.
The team began with a computer model and a 3D printer. Once they hit print, the actual construction process was very similar to previous 3D-printed concrete structures we've seen, and involved cement being extruded through a nozzle in layers to build up the undulating walls. We've no word on how the roof, windows and doors were added, but would guess that US Marines handled these finishing touches manually.
The Marine Corps is now carrying out more research to see how the technology can be employed in the field and if the construction process can be refined further. One suggestion made was that automating the pumping and mixing of the cement could speed up progress to just a day.
"In active or simulated combat environments, we don't want Marines out there swinging hammers and holding plywood up," says MCSC Capt. Matthew Friedell. "Having a concrete printer that can make buildings on demand is a huge advantage for Marines operating down range."
We've reached out for more information on the actual dimensions of the 3D printer to confirm it's even bigger than the Russian model we recently covered, but looking to the future, MCSC aims to deploy the tech for military operations and humanitarian aid and relief missions, and says it could help re-house people in need more quickly.
"This capability would enable a great partnership with the local community because it is low cost, easy to use, and robotics could print the buildings," adds Friedell. "We can bring forward better structures, houses and forward operating bases with less manpower and fewer Marines in harm's way."