Reinforced concrete beams, a staple in civil engineering, are strong ... but they are also very, very heavy.
Thanks to 3D printing, a team of researchers at the Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV) in Spain has developed a lightweight alternative. The 3D printed plastic pieces are snapped together onsite, just like LEGO pieces. Then the structure is concreted into place, with no metal reinforcement required.
The resulting beam is just as strong as reinforced concrete beam, but weighs up to 80% less.
How did the researchers achieve the required rigidity from plastic? By studying human bones:
"It is an alveolar structure, which makes it possible to decrease the amount of plastic used – and therefore its weight – while maintaining structural rigidity," said Jose Ramon Albiol of the Higher Technical School of Construction Engineering of the UPV, "This is what we have transferred to these revolutionary beams, specifically to their profiles. It is a very intelligent natural system and its reproduction in these beams awards them, with the low structural weight, very high mechanical capabilities."