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Robotic concrete surface finishing: a moldless approach to creating thermally tuned surface geometry for architectural building components using Profile-3D-Printing


This paper focuses on describing a novel hybrid concrete printing/casting process we term Profile-3D-Printing. Profile-3D-Printing is an additive/subtractive manufacturing process that combines deposition of concrete for rough layup with precision tooling for surface finishing of architectural building components commonly found in the architectural precast industry. Our research team from Architecture, the Robotics Institute, and Material Science invented this novel hybrid manufacturing process for robotically printing architectural facade panels with complex surface geometries. This effort was motivated by previously validated research focused on calibrating the thermal exchange rate of vertical surface geometries for the purpose of improving both the esthetic and thermodynamic performance of passive heating and cooling systems in buildings. Our hybrid approach to concrete 3D printing is unique because it combines high-volume material deposition, multi-resolution surface finishing, and the ability for high customization without significant increases in production time. Our project will significantly advance systems integration between energy-based building performance design and advance additive manufacturing, enabling precast concrete suppliers to design and manufacture innovative architectural products with added value for end users in energy savings. This project serves as a template for other industries to adopt hybrid additive manufacturing systems to transform traditionally mold-based approaches. The goal of our project is to develop and test robotic 3D-printing systems that enable customization for high-resolution parts. Hybrid additive manufacturing (Hybrid-AM) enables automated tooling of soft and phase-changing materials to achieve fine feature resolution and finish quality independent of print nozzle size. Currently, speed of printing, control of finish quality, and flexibility of application are three of the most significant barriers for industries seeking to adopt additive manufacturing for part production. This project highlights how Hybrid-AM techniques, built on robotic work cells, address these challenges to enable customization of value-added products.

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The authors acknowledge Carnegie Mellon University Manufacturing Futures Initiative TAKTL.

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Correspondence to Joshua Bard.

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Bard, J., Cupkova, D., Washburn, N. et al. Robotic concrete surface finishing: a moldless approach to creating thermally tuned surface geometry for architectural building components using Profile-3D-Printing. Constr Robot 2, 53–65 (2018).

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  • Additive manufacturing
  • High-performance design
  • Digital concrete
  • Thermal performance
  • Robotic fabrication