Aerial additive building manufacturing: three-dimensional printing of polymer structures using drones

Barrie Dams, Sina Sareh, Ketao Zhang, Paul Shepherd, Mirko Kovac, Richard Ball

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This paper describes the first aerial additive building manufacturing system developed to create and repair civil engineering structures remotely using polymers extruded from unmanned aerial robots (drones). The structural potential of three commercially available expanding polyurethane foams of varying density (LD40, Reprocell 300 and Reprocell 500), and their feasibility for deposition using an autonomous flying dual-syringe device is described. Test specimens consisting of one and two layers, with horizontal and vertical interfaces, were mechanically tested both parallel and perpendicular to the direction of expansion. LD40 specimens exhibited ductile failure in flexural tests and provided evidence that the interfaces between layers were not necessarily regions of weaknesses. Hand-mixed specimens of Reprocell 500 possessed compressive strengths comparable to those of concrete and flexural strengths similar to those of the lower range of timber, though they exhibited brittle failure. There are challenges to be faced with matching the performance of hand-mixed specimens using an autonomous dual-syringe deposition device, primarily concerning the rheological properties of the material following extrusion. However, the device successfully imported and deposited two liquid components, of varying viscosity, and maintained correct mixing ratios. This work has demonstrated the structural and operational feasibility of polyurethane foam as a viable structural material for remote three-dimensional printing using drones.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-14
Number of pages12
JournalProceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers: Construction Materials
Issue number1
Early online date14 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - 28 Feb 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The Aerial ABM project is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (grant reference EP/N018494/1). This study was supported by the EPSRC Centre for Decarbonisation of the Built Environment (dCarb) (grant reference EP/L016869/1) and a University of Bath Research Scholarship. The authors express thanks to the following: Fernando Acosta, William Bazeley, Neil Price, David Williams, David Surgenor, Robert Dyer, Miles Chambers, Walter Guy, Mathew Ball (Technical support, University of Bath, UK); Phillip Fletcher, Ursula Potter (SEM, Microscopy analysis suite, University of Bath, UK); Gareth Williams (Isothane Ltd, UK); Andrew Walton, Shona Murphy (Rheology, Malvern Instruments Ltd, UK); Phil Banfill (Rheology, Heriot Watt University, UK). All data supporting this paper are openly available from the University of Bath data archive at

Publisher Copyright:
© Published with permission by the ICE under the CC-BY 4.0 license.


  • materials technology
  • resins & plastics
  • strength & testing of materials

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Materials Science(all)
  • Mechanics of Materials


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