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Digital Design and Fabrication of Internal Reinforcement and Structural Formwork Systems for New Concrete Structures

Project Description

The aim of this project is to improve whole life construction productivity by defining new methods for the design and construction of durable concrete structures with complex geometries. It will enable the future light weighting of structures by developing the evolutionary optimisation and digital fabrication techniques required for both structural formwork and internal reinforcement systems made of fibre-reinforced polymers.

Stemming from new concepts developed in previous research by Dr. Spadea et al. and the elaborating on the computational environment offered by the Discrete Element Method, the project will address some of the following research challenges:

To accurately analyse the structural response of geometrically complex concrete structures with woven internal reinforcement under any loading condition;

To combine the novel analysis method based on DEM with an optimisation routine that can propose the external geometry and internal reinforcement arrangement required to meet user-defined performance requirements with the goal of minimum total embodied energy;

To establish a feasible construction solution for both internal reinforcement and structural formwork systems, using digital fabrication techniques, to drive acceptance in industry and enhance sector-wide productivity;

To enhance the durability and resilience of infrastructure through the development of novel materials that are well suited to automated manufacturing techniques;

To embed new construction processes and structural forms in practice, demonstrating feasibility by comparison to current design approaches.

The project lies in between the research interests of Dr. Saverio Spadea in composites manufacturing, concrete structure optimisation and construction automation, and Dr. Matteo Ciantia expertise in Discrete Element Modelling. The successful candidate will have a good background in structural mechanics, evidenced by a good first degree in Civil Engineering, and a keen interest in digital technologies. An aptitude for experimental testing would be an advantage, as would a working knowledge of numerical methods.

The PhD student will contribute to (and benefit from) the success of research project currently developed by the main supervisor, which are strictly related to the objective of this PhD.

Dr. Spadea is Co-Investigator of the Project “Automating Concrete Construction (ACORN)” recently funded by the EPSRC under the scheme ISCF Transforming Construction Research Leadership (, which involves researchers from three different UK institutions: the University of Bath, the University of Cambridge, and the Universty of Dundee, as well as twelve industrial partners. Dr. Spadea is also a partner of the MILDGLASS Project, value £200k, lead by the University of Miami and involving researcher from the Polytechnic of Milan. Availability to travel to those several higher education institutions and benefit from the supervision of other renowned academics will be an additional advantage for the candidate.

The awarded student will work in a culturally fervent and stimulating environment. Over the past 16 years, Civil Engineering research at Dundee has maintained its ranking as 1st in Scotland and in the top 10 in the UK. A major contributor to this success has been the Concrete Technology and Structural Engineering Cluster, which conduct internationally-recognised research in the thematic areas of Energy, Global Uncertainties and Living with Environment.

Extensive lab facilities and expertise relevant to the success of the project will be made available at the UoD and in other partner institutions. The £2M SMART Lab at the UoD has capabilities to perform a wide range of mechanical tests on composites and analyse their microstructure, using state-of-the-art imaging techniques. The manufacturing and rapid-prototyping facilities include instrumentation and expertise in digital modelling, system simulation, system intelligence, and product design, which are fundamental for the success of the project. The Structures Laboratory features a 15m x 8.5m x 1m strengthened floor and a 10 ton crane. This will allow to elaborate on the long-term ambition of the project: prototyping a full-size machine for automated fabrication of composite reinforcement and formwork for concrete construction.

Applicants wishing to apply should submit a one-page covering letter stating your background, academic qualifications (i.e. Masters degree at 2:1 or above in a related subject), past research experience and interests, and future career aspirations. Please include a full CV, a copy of your academic transcript and the names and contact details of two referees to . Please also send any other informal inquiries or queries to the same email address.

Funding Notes

To be eligible for a fully-funded PhD studentship, covering tuition fees and an annual stipend set at UKRI rates, the candidate must have no restrictions on how long they can stay in the UK and have been ordinarily resident in the UK for at least 3 years prior to the start of the studentship (with some further constraint regarding residence for education, further guidance can be found on the EPSRC website). Due to funding requirements the University of Dundee is limited to accepting only UK students.

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