Global construction company Skanska will collaborate with Loughborough University, in the United Kingdom, to develop what it claims to be the world’s first robotic 3D printer for commercial applications, according to a press release published by the contractor on Nov. 24. The agreement outlines an 18-month development program that will let Skanska license Loughborough's 3D concrete printing technology for use on its own projects. Skanska's collaboration is one of several partnerships vying to create a commercial 3D printing robot of any variety—technology companies like Geoweaver and M-Blocks are working with universities around the country to develop machines that are chaning the ways we design and build.

A team at Loughborough’s School of Civil and Building Engineering has been developing the technology as a part of its Freeform project since 2007 with the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s Innovative Manufacturing and Construction Research Centre, a government agency. So far, the team has created 3D concrete printers fitted to a gantry and to a robotic arm, which is now in its second iteration. The computer-automated print head extrudes a high-performance concrete in successive layers to fabricate objects such as complex structural components, curved cladding panels, and detailed architectural features more easily than with conventional processes. The printer has been used to produced prototypes of objects including a bench and a double-curved concrete cladding panel cast with voids and slots for post-tensioning.

“[Three-dimensional] concrete printing, when combined with a type of mobile prefabrication [technology], has the potential to reduce the time needed to create complex elements of buildings from weeks to hours. We expect to achieve a level of quality and efficiency which has never been seen before in construction,” said Rob Francis, Skanska’s director of innovation and business improvement, in the press release.

Skanska is also collaborating with partners including London design firm Foster + Partners

, Buchan Concrete, ABB, and Lafarge Tarmac to find new uses and markets for the forthcoming printer.