Pioneering vaulted thin shell floor cuts concrete by 75%

Aaron Morby 6 months ago
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UK engineers have developed a new vaulted-style, thin-shell concrete floor that uses 75% less material than a traditional flat slab floor.

Full-scale 4.5m x 4.5m thin-shell building erected at Cambridge University’s civil engineering department.
Full-scale 4.5m x 4.5m thin-shell building erected at Cambridge University’s civil engineering department.

The innovative design is being trumpeted as a major advance in the industry’s effort to reduce its carbon footprint.

An interdisciplinary team of structural engineers, mathematicians and manufacturing experts from the Universities of Bath, Cambridge and Dundee has unveiled a full-scale demonstration of a thin-shell floor, which uses 60% less carbon in its construction than the standard flat slab design carrying the same load.

 

The curved vault-shaped structure is covered by standard raised floor panels to create a level surface.

Created by the UKRI-funded ACORN – Automating Concrete Construction – research project, the innovative floor design takes advantage of concrete’s inherent natural properties and strengths.

Dr Paul Shepherd, a Reader in Bath’s Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering and the principal investigator for ACORN, said: “Since concrete is the world’s most widely consumed material after water, and its production contributes more than 7% of global CO2emissions, the easiest way for construction to begin its journey to net-zero is to use less concrete.

“That has been the driving force behind this project, which we hope could make a major difference to the impact of construction.”

The ACORN team has in parallel developed an automated adaptable mould and a robotic concrete spraying system that can be used in off-site factory production.

Alongside this new style of fabrication, the team has also developed bespoke software to optimise floors for a given building design.

The prototype floor design is split into nine transportable pieces with a connection system to join the pieces together.

Reversible joints allow the floor to be disassembled and reused elsewhere at the end of the building’s life, promoting a circular economy for the construction industry.

Dr Shepherd said “After three years of research it is amazing to see the fruits of all our hard work. I just hope that one day soon this type of low-carbon automatically manufactured building becomes so widespread that people walk by without noticing.”

Adam Locke, programme leader of the Europe Hub Technology & Innovation at Laing O’Rourke, one of the ACORN partners, added: “The ACORN Demonstrator is a very useful stepping-stone in the progressive pathway to decarbonizing our solutions and compliments very well our own work in this area.”

 

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