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Lobsters have long inspired top chefs in high-end restaurants. Now, their tough outer shells have become a source of inspiration for stronger 3D-printed concrete. 

Researchers at RMIT University have mimicked the spiral pattern inside a lobster’s exoskeleton, the hardy outer layer that protects it from predators, to create stronger concrete. 

The researchers found that by using that natural pattern to build 3D-printed structures, they could strengthen concrete overall and direct strength to where it’s needed for structural support.

Known as “biomimicry”, the researchers have borrowed from thousands of years of evolution, translating characteristics from biological systems to building design. Singapore’s “supertrees” in the Gardens by the Bay project is one great example.

The RMIT study looked at several different alternatives to the usual layer-by-layer approach to 3D printing in the hope of discovering a more robust technique.

Next-generation manufacturing techniques, such as 3D printing, are far more accurate and precise than traditional building techniques, and help to reduce waste and improve efficiency. 

“3D concrete printing technology has real potential to revolutionise the construction industry, and our aim is to bring that transformation closer,” said lead researcher Dr Jonathan Tran, a senior lecturer in structured materials and design at RMIT. 

“As lobster shells are naturally strong and naturally curved, we know this could help us deliver stronger concrete shapes like arches and flowing or twisted structures,” he said. 

The researchers also found that adding a small percentage of steel fibres to the concrete mix improved its structural integrity. 

Next on agenda for the university’s new large-scale mobile concrete 3D printer will be testing concrete mixes that include recycled waste such as soft plastic aggregate. 

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