China Planning 3D-Printed Dam Construction

THURSDAY, MAY 19, 2022

According to reports, China is preparing to build a hydropower dam by 2024 using an artificial intelligence system, robots and 3D printing. The South China Morning Post reports that the 590-foot-tall dam will be fully automated and will not require human workers, eliminating the risk for human error and safety concerns for workers.

Once completed, the project is expected to generate almost 5 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity each year to the Henan province.

About the Project

Scientists involved in the project said that the Yangqu dam on the Tibetan Plateau will be assembled layer by layer, using a 3D printing method from an article published last month in the Journal of Tsinghua University (Science and Technology). The system uses intelligence robots and a construction scheduling system for the efficient filling of large construction projects.

A 3D scheduling system cuts the 3D digital design model into slices to calculate the filling material information, then it plans the transport roads on the site map model for each step in the construction process, according to the paper.

For the dam construction, a central AI system will reportedly be used to oversee the automated assembly line that starts with a fleet of unmanned trucks used to transport construction materials to parts of the worksite. Automated bulldozers and pavers will then use those materials to turn them into a layer of the dam.

Next, rollers equipped with sensors will press each layer to become firm and durable. Once a layer is complete, robots will send information about the state of the construction back to the AI system.

However, researchers note, that the mining of the construction materials will still need to be completed manually.

The AI system and its robots are expected to eliminate human error, such as when roller operators don't keep to a straight line or when truck drivers deliver materials to the wrong spot, said lead author Liu Tianyun of Tsinghua University. Additionally, onsite work will progress continuously without safety concerns for workers.

If successful, Liu told reporters, the building method could provide a blueprint for other construction projects, such as road construction. The team anticipates construction to take two years, with project completion occurring in 2024.

The project is expected to be the world’s tallest structure using 3D printing if and when it is completed. The current record is held by a two-story administrative governmental office building in Dubai, which was completed in 2019 with just one mobile printer.

Current Tallest 3D-Printed Structure

Boston-based company Apis Cor announced in December 2019 that it has completed what it touts as the largest 3D-printed building in the world—in 21 days. The structure is a two-story administrative governmental office building in Dubai, built using just one mobile printer.

The structure is 31 feet tall, covering an area of 6,889 square feet. According to reports, the walls were printed, while other aspects such as insulation, roofing, foundation and windows were installed via traditional methods.

The printing materials was a proprietary mixture of components such as sand, cement and gypsum. The entire cost of the project was not released.

Apis Cor said at the time that it planned to launch its technology in the U.S. in 2020, after clearing building code regulations.

Recent China Infrastructure Investments

Last month, reports stated that local governments in China have created lists of thousands of “major projects,” with a planned infrastructure investment amounting to at least 14.8 trillion yuan ($2.3 trillion). Bloomberg reported in its analysis that the plans will more than double the spending in the infrastructure package passed by the United States last year.

Since China already reportedly has more than twice as much high-speed rail as the rest of the world, as well as the world’s longest expressway network, much of the spend is aimed at transportation, water and digital infrastructure. About 30% of the projects are road or rail infrastructure, with more than half geared to support the manufacturing and service industries.

As well as keeping the country’s more than 50 million construction workers employed, the push will also ensure the government reaches its 5.5% growth target for this year and boost the economy. Factors such as the recent COVID-19 lockdown, a real estate recession and rising oil prices due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have provided challenges for the market.

Outside of China, the investment is also expected to have a global impact, with more factories available to produce goods such as microchips, and boost imports and exports to lower inflation. The stock market could also get a lift.

In terms of environmental impact, major project approved by Beijing are reportedly exempt from the country’s energy-efficiency requirements. Whether China sticks with its model of construction stimulus when the economy slows is the biggest single factor determining the path of its future emissions, said Lauri Myllyvirta of the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air. 

However, a portion of the infrastructure investment will also go towards renewable energy, potentially limiting the output of greenhouse gases long term.

According to the analysis, the pace of infrastructure investment has fallen gradually over the past decade due to policies implement to reduce high debt. Last year, growth amount to 0.4%, compared to almost 20% a decade ago.

“The trend will be reversed,” said Justin Lin, a former World Bank chief economist who’s advised Chinese President Xi Jinping. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. predicts infrastructure investment will rise 8% in 2022.

“If you use the opportunity to invest in infrastructure to ease bottlenecks, then that will increase productivity and can increase government revenue,” Lin said.

He Lifeng, Xi’s previous economic adviser, will lead the National Development and Reform Commission, the agency responsible for approving all major construction projects and making them happen. China’s policymakers say the country still has massive infrastructure needs, including that it has 60 cities with more than 3 million residents but no subway system.


Tagged categories: 3D printing; 3D Printing; AS; Asia Pacific; China; Construction; Infrastructure; Infrastructure; Locks and dams; Power; Power; Program/Project Management; Robotics; Technology; Upcoming projects

Join the Conversation:

Sign in to our community to add your comments.