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UC Berkeley Powder Prints “Bloom”

March 24, 2015
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Universities erecting new buildings have become commonplace these days, but UC Berkeley’s recent installation of the “first and largest powder-based 3D printed cement structure built to date” made history.

Under the direction of Associate Professor Ronald Rael, graduate students used 11 3D Systems printers, spending more than a year to individually print and assemble 840 “iron oxide-free Portland cement polymer” blocks.  One cool construction feature:  the assembly instructions were printed onto the blocks.  Once completed, the Bloom pavilion towered 9 feet and measured 12 feet by 12 feet.

The structure’s design is both functional and aesthetic, yet its formulation may be most noteworthy.  Dr. Rael, with support from the Siam Research and Innovation Co. Ltd., developed the printable cement compound.

“While there are a handful of people currently experimenting with printing 3-D architecture, only a few are looking at 3-D printing with cement-based materials, and all are extruding wet cement through a nozzle to produce rough panels,” Rael said. “We are mixing polymers with cement and fibers to produce very strong, lightweight, high-resolution parts on readily available equipment; it’s a very precise, yet frugal technique. This project is the genesis of a realistic, marketable process with the potential to transform the way we think about building a structure

Although the resulting structure may be beautiful, durable and lightweight, the production speed doesn’t appear to compete with other cement-based printing methods such as the 10 Chinese printed units manufactured by Win Sun which were erected in a single day.

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