Lightweight 3D-Printed Lego-Like Beams Are Just as Strong as Concrete

The new plastic reinforcement beams may shake up the world of construction.
Fabienne Lang

Researchers have developed and patented a new 3D-printed beam that assembles in a similar way to lego pieces, and is much less heavy than traditional concrete or metallic beams. 

The team from the Universitat Polytècnica de València (UPV) in Spain, explains that its beams use recycled plastic as the raw material, can be printed and assembled in situ thanks to their 3D-printing nature, and weigh up to 80 percent less than regular reinforcement beams.

After three years in the making, all in all, these new beams appear to be more sustainable, lighter, easier to assemble and transport than concrete or metallic beams, which could change the tides in the construction industry. 

"It is a very intelligent natural system and its reproduction in these beams awards them, with the low structural weight, very high mechanical capabilities," says José Ramón Albiol, one of the researchers of the study. 

Lighter, customizable, more sustainable beams

The main novelty of the beams lies in its polymeric profile, which enables the pieces to be assembled, linked, and concreted wherever needed. There are no metallic components to the beams, which means they don't corrode with time.

Even though the beams' weight isn't as heavy as concrete beams, they still maintain their structural rigidity, explains Albiol.

The way the researchers managed to minimize the weight so drastically was by using an alveolar structure, a natural system that can be found in human bones, and which was the inspiration for the structure. 

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Lightweight 3D-Printed Lego-Like Beams Are Just as Strong as Concrete
The new, customizable 3D-printed plastic beams. Source: PUV

On top of all that, as they're 3D-printable, the beams are more easily customizable nearer the construction site, which also simplifies transportation and lowers costs.

"To be able to customize the beams in situ makes it possible to adapt the characteristics of each of them to the structural needs at each point of construction," mentions Miguel Sánchez, from the Department of Systems and Computer Science (DISCA) of the UPV.

The team patented its creation in October last year, and it'll be interesting to see how the construction world integrates and welcomes these beams.

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