Reinforced concrete beams serve as important structural elements for buildings and bridges, but they are long and heavy and therefore require large machinery to both transport and install. Researchers at Spain’s Polytechnic University of Valencia have spent the past few years working on a more manageable alternative, patenting a system that uses “Lego-like” segments of 3D-printed plastic that can be pieced together for significant savings on weight and construction time.
“Our goal was to propose an alternative to the current reinforced concrete beams,” says Polytechnic University of Valencia’s José Ramón Albiol. “These are made using profiles built for the length of the piece, which requires expensive installation and are hard to transport.”
The team has been developing its alternative for almost three years, and has now landed on a design it hopes can shake things up in the world of construction. The system consists of a series of individual segments that can be 3D-printed using recycled plastics, and can then be assembled on site and concreted over to form a structural beam. The internal composition of these individual segments is inspired by the way thick and compact human bones are formed, and offer the beams some useful properties.