US Army to build largest 3D-printed structures in the Americas

Do we have enough toner for barracks in Fort Bliss base in Texas?

The US Department of Defense is to construct and try out the largest 3D-printed buildings in the Americas: three barracks in a Lone Star army base.

Scheduled to be built at Fort Bliss, El Paso, Texas, over the next 10 months, the three 3D-printed concrete barracks will each be more than 5,700 square feet (529.55 square meters) each, making them the largest 3D-printed structures yet built on the continent.

That title was previously held by the Texas Military Department, which had additive manufacturing company ICON build 3,800 square foot (353 square meters), 72-bunk barracks in 2021. The military was able to order these facilities after changing its Unified Facilities Criteria, used to decide what can be purchased, to include structures made of 3D-printed building materials.

The barracks are being made out of Lavacrete, ICON's own proprietary building material blend. According to the company, the compressive strength of its high-strength concrete is between 2,000 and 3,500 PSI.

While it may not match the strength of the toughest modern concrete, Lavacrete is plenty strong enough to serve as the walls of a barracks, and the DoD has plans to continue experimenting with 3D printed buildings at the Defense Innovation Unit, its experimental wing.

"Constructing facilities using this cutting-edge technology saves labor costs, reduces planning time, and increases the speed of construction of future facilities. We are looking at other ways to use this innovative technique for rapid construction of other types of facilities beyond barracks," said Lt Gen Doug Gabram, commander of the US Army Installation Management Command.

The construction itself is done by ICON's Vulcan 3D printer, a 46-foot wide, 15-foot tall (14 metre x 4.6 metre) robot that can print between 5 and 10 inches (∼12.5cm-25cm) of concrete a second. Vulcan is controlled via a smartphone/tablet app, and only mixes concrete as needed, reducing waste and saving on construction costs. 

ICON has built several 3D printed homes, and has made deals with space exploration companies to develop 3D-printing technologies for building structures on the Moon and Mars. ®

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