There is currently a lot of interest from investors and commercial developers in the 3D printing of architectural components, so when researchers want to demonstrate their construction-grade 3D printers, the go-to structure is a bridge.

3D printing allows more organic shapes to be implemented in designs, and at costs that are lower than angular beam-based bridges; Ghent University researchers focused on those advantages by using algorithms to determine the minimum amount of concrete required to achieve a specific strength metric in a 3D printed bridge.

Gieljan Vantyghem lead the team at the structural engineering department of Ghent, hoping to optimize material usage for economic and ecological benefits. Their algorithms which were developed in collaboration with Technion also calculated the optimal location of steel tension cables that allow for a further reduction in concrete usage, so cavities were included in the 3D model for inserting the cables after printing.

The optimized geometry is rather organic, with supporting arches that resemble ribs. While it may seem that sand is in abundant supply in deserts around the world, the sand used in concrete generally comes from beaches, which is a less-renewable resource. Efforts to reduce concrete usage are a necessary step in reaching sustainability goals, and 3D printing will be there every step of the way.