Partners successfully test UK’s first 3D-printed concrete water chamber

Article by Amanda Jasi

UNITED Utilities and its partner, 3D mortar printing company ChangeMaker3D (CM3D), have successfully demonstrated what they say is the UK’s first 3D-printed concrete chamber in the water sector, achieving significant carbon, cost, and labour savings.

The move sees the water sector take the lead on innovative technology known as Printfrastructure. It has been shown to deliver reductions of 25% in carbon, 20% in cost, and 55% in labour, compared to traditional methods.

The partners chose to print a wastewater distribution chamber, as it provided a technical challenge as well the opportunity to bring a sustainable approach to a component that has traditionally been carbon heavy.

Wastewater distribution chambers are used to manage the flow and load of wastewater through the treatment process, to ensure a steady and consistent diversion of flow between multiple process units such as settlement tanks, or biological filters. They are an integral asset of water treatment works and used widely across the industry.

Supported by United’s Innovation Lab expertise and resources, CM3D created an accurate digital model of a 1.8 m cylindrical chamber. It was then printed by technology partner CyBe Construction, at a Dutch factory. The process involves piping mortar through a robotic arm to a precise computer design. The chamber was built in less than four hours with a significant reduction in required material, and the process demonstrated safety benefits by reducing the need to work at height or in confined spaces.

Working together over 12 months, CM3D and United designed, 3D-printed, and then installed the wastewater distribution chamber at one of the utility company’s test facilities in Cheshire, UK. Civil engineering company Costain supported United’s innovation team to install and test the chamber, including by supplying and modifying access scaffolding, trialling repair methods, and trialling creation of post-fabrication additions to the chamber.

The partners say that the successful test proves the “huge potential” of 3D printing for construction and could lead to widespread benefits for other sectors. CM3D is already working with partners in rail and highways to pursue emissions reductions. CM3D co-founder Luke Wadley said “this technology has scope to open up new careers in digital and future construction.”

Gavin Stonard, Technical Development Director for Water at Costain, said: “A 3D-printed structure of this kind is groundbreaking within the UK water sector. We work with water and wastewater companies to develop solutions that improve water quality, affordability and resilience. Partnering with United Utilities has highlighted how technology can provide novel solutions to help overcome industry challenges on safety, and efficiency, whilst driving down carbon.”

Natalie Wadley, CEO and co-founder of CM3D, said: “Our mission is to support industry to leave a lighter footprint and transforming the UK’s infrastructure is critical if the UK is to reach net zero. We believe 3D-printed concrete has the potential to help deliver the green growth our country needs. Our aim now is to continue to work with United Utilities to grow the impact. We want to prove this is a technology that can have widespread uses not just in the water sector, but for rail and highways, too.”

Article by Amanda Jasi

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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