“This exercise had never been done before,” said project officer Captain Matthew Friedell. “People have printed buildings and large structures, but they haven’t done it on site and all at once. This is the first-in-the-world, on-site continuous concrete print.”
The Additive Manufacturing Team at Marine Corps Systems Command teamed up with Marines from I Marine Expeditionary Force to operate the record-breaking printer at the US Army Engineer Research & Development Center in Illinois.
The team started with a computer-aided design model on a 10-year old computer, concrete and a 3D printer. Once they hit print, the concrete was pushed through the print head and layered repeatedly to build the walls. In total, the job took 40 hours because Marines had to monitor progress and continually fill the printer with concrete. However, if there was a robot to do the mixing and pumping, the building could easily be created in one day, Friedell said.
“In 2016, the commandant said robots should be doing everything that is dull, dangerous and dirty, and a construction site on the battlefield is all of those things,” Friedell said. The ability to build structures and bases while putting fewer Marines in danger would be a significant accomplishment, he said.
“In active or simulated combat environments, we don’t want Marines out there swinging hammers and holding plywood up,” said Friedell. “Having a concrete printer that can make buildings on demand is a huge advantage for Marines operating down range.”
It normally takes 10 Marines five days to construct a barracks hut out of wood. With this, the Marine Corps proved that four Marines with a concrete printer can build a strong structure in less than two days. Ideally, the Corps’ use of concrete printers will span the full range of military operations, from combat environments to humanitarian aid and disaster relief missions, said the team.
As the first military services on site in natural disasters, the Navy and Marine Corps are great at providing food and water, but struggle to provide shelter, Friedell said. In many locations, cement is easier to acquire than wood. During humanitarian or disaster relief missions, Marines could safely and quickly print houses, schools and community buildings to replace those destroyed.
“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,” he said. “We can bring forward better structures, houses and forward operating bases with less manpower and fewer Marines in harm’s way.”