U.S. Marines conduct first concrete 3D printing operation


Teams from the Marine Corps Systems Command (MCSC) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), have conducted the first 3D concrete printing operation at the Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL) in Champaign, Illinois.

In doing so, the teams, which also includes the 7th Engineer Support Battalion (ESB), tested a new continuous mixer and a three-inch print nozzle to additively manufacture multiple structures, such as barracks and a bridge. 

“This is really the first time we’ve ever printed something large with this system. It is experimental right now and we are trying to push the technology forward,” stated Megan Kreiger, project lead for the Automated Construction of Expeditionary Structures (ACES) at CERL.

Marines from 7th Engineer Support Battalion along with engineers from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Construction Engineering Research Laboratory pose with a concrete bunker during a 3D concrete printing exercise. Photo via U.S. Marines/Staff Sgt. Michael Smith, 7th ESB.
Marines from 7th Engineer Support Battalion along with engineers from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Construction Engineering Research Laboratory pose with a concrete bunker during a 3D concrete printing exercise. Photo via U.S. Marines/Staff Sgt. Michael Smith, 7th ESB.

U.S. marine use concrete 3D printing

In 2017, CERL became the grounds for the U.S. Marine’s first concrete 3D printed barracks hut measuring at 512 square-feet. Upon its production, Dr. Michael Case, CERL ACES program manager, explained that such structures show potential for constructing other infrastructural essentials such as barriers, culverts, and obstacles. “ACES provides a capability to print custom designed expeditionary structures on-demand, in the field, using locally available materials.”

A year on, USACE developed and patented a concrete composition that enables 3D printing for building components demanding high structural strength. Using this composition, the USACE aimed to accelerate the construction of buildings for a wider variety of military and civilian operations.

Presently, according to ACES research, 3D printing concrete structures reduces cost by 40%, construction time by 50% and the use of concrete materials by 44%. Moreover, additive manufacturing has been shown to double the strength of walls, improves thermal energy performance by 10 times, reduces manpower by 50% and reduces the overall need for hard labor.

The U.S Marine concrete 3D printer. Photo via U.S. Marines/Staff Sgt. Michael Smith, 7th ESB
The U.S Marine concrete 3D printer. Photo via U.S. Marines/Staff Sgt. Michael Smith, 7th ESB.

Mixing and additive manufacturing

In the latest concrete 3D printing operation, the marines and engineers increased the formerly two-inch print nozzle by an inch to allows larger structures faster and with less waste. As a result, the team 3D printed a bunker designed by the Drafting and Survey combat engineers from 7th ESB based on practical field experience.

Now, the 7th ESB Marines plan to build a conventional bunker similar for use in blast or demolitions testing on a range. Capt. Matthew Audette, project officer for the Advanced Manufacturing Operations Cell at MCSC, added:

“The new mixer we are testing is a commercial model of a mixer that is already within the Marine Corps repertoire in the Airfield Damage Repair Kit. That means we don’t have to field a new piece of gear in addition to the printer to make this work.”

The U.S Marine teams setting up the concrete 3D printer. Photo via U.S. Marines/Staff Sgt. Michael Smith, 7th ESB
The U.S Marine teams setting up the concrete 3D printer. Photo via U.S. Marines/Staff Sgt. Michael Smith, 7th ESB.

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Featured image shows Marines from 7th Engineer Support Battalion along with engineers from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Construction Engineering Research Laboratory posing with a concrete bunker during a 3D concrete printing exercise. Photo via U.S. Marines/Staff Sgt. Michael Smith, 7th ESB.





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