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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/S031316/1
Title: Automating Concrete Construction (ACORN)
Principal Investigator: Shepherd, Dr P
Other Investigators:
Parlikad, Professor A Ibell, Professor T Orr, Dr JJ
Spadea, Dr S S
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
AECOM Limited (UK) AKT II Arup Group Ltd
BRE Group (Building Res Establishment) Buro Happold Byrne Bros
Cambridge CSIC Foster and Partners Laing O'Rourke Ltd
McKinsey and Company UK OPS Structural Engineering Tonkin Liu
Department: Architecture and Civil Engineering
Organisation: University of Bath
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 01 January 2019 Ends: 31 March 2022 Value (£): 1,243,062
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Building Ops & Management Civil Engineering Materials
Construction Ops & Management Structural Engineering
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
20 Nov 2018 ISCF TC Research Leadership Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Our long-term vision is to dramatically improve whole life construction sector sustainability and productivity by creating a culture that takes a fresh, holistic approach to the manufacture, assembly, reuse, and deconstruction of concrete buildings, leading to a healthier, safer, built environment.

Currently, up to half of the concrete used in buildings is unnecessary, and is only there because it is shaped using planar formwork, used since Roman times. This leads to inefficient prismatic shapes for the beams, columns and floor-slabs, which is wasteful, architecturally constraining and a major driver of embodied emissions in construction. This need not be the case. Concrete is initially a liquid and can form structures of any shape, given the right mould. By moving the construction of concrete buildings off-site, to a highly automated, quality controlled environment, and using robotics to create optimised non-prismatic formwork, our buildings can become more sustainable and the construction industry more productive.

ACORN's approach builds on the well-established computational design expertise of the team, who have developed innovative digital tools and techniques to optimise the shape, layout, structure and façade of buildings during the design phase. It will extend this approach downstream in the building process, to encompass fabrication.

The novelty here lies in the creation of integrated end-to-end digital processes to automate the design and manufacture of non-prismatic building elements. It capitalises on the recent proliferation of affordable robotics, and brings them into an industry ripe for a step-change in sustainability and productivity.

Something as simple as allowing beams, columns and floor-slabs to have the shape they need to do their job, rather than the shape they need to be easily formed, allows a complete rethink of the way material is used in our buildings. We can begin to ask questions like what shape should they be, what material should we make them from, how can we reinforce the elements efficiently, how can we take into account whole-life value and how should we organise our design processes to take advantage? ACORN will answer all of these questions.

Key Findings
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Potential use in non-academic contexts
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Organisation Website: http://www.bath.ac.uk