3DMBC (3D Modular Building Connections)

Object printed on metal 3d printer. A model created in a laser sintering machine close-up. DMLS, SLM, SLS technology. Concept of 4.0 industrial revolution. Progressive modern additive technology.

The vision is to support manufacturing-driven innovations such as lean manufacturing and modular design which can transform the construction site and the AEC industry in general. The aim of this project is to focus on the modular connection design limitations and develop prototypes which will embrace flexibility and resilience in design, and will further support disassembly and reuse operations towards the faster transition to the future Autonomous Construction (through robotics).

Despite the advent of new technologies and materials in the construction industry, standard structural components are still the norm. Connection design is in an imminent challenge in the frontiers of flexible and adaptable modular designs; either of flat-pack systems, composite systems, or hybrid systems.

The proposed study will improve the connection design of modular units, exploiting the latest structural topology optimisation techniques and additive manufacturing (AM), to create lighter, lower-carbon, flexible prototypes for more adaptable structural systems towards resilient and sustainable buildings. The application of ‘plug & play’ modules, which are manufactured and tested off-site and then slotted into position on-site, is fast gaining favour in the building sector due to shorter construction time, greater safety, reduced waste and higher performance.

Devising modular systems for buildings, in particular, those under strong winds and seismic loading is far from trivial. During the construction stage, lifting and handling of the modular unit are challenging tasks, thus reducing module weight is priority. That results in an issue when excessive tension uplift actions are generated under strong winds and can lead to non-linear behaviour during earthquakes.

Moreover, the lateral stability of such systems requires special attention. Optimised 3D printed connections can massively improve the design of modular systems with the ability to manufacture complex geometries and components that would be time and cost-prohibitive, or even impossible, to produce with traditional manufacturing methods.


A wide range of businesses and companies can profit from the outcomes of this project; there is an enormous appetite from the market to develop flexible modular systems and components so that manufacturers can engage more with designers/architects and construction planners. Flexible and resilient connections which allow for disassembly and reuse operations foster lean-construction, avoiding redundant designs and material waste, towards a whole-cycle approach and cost-effective solutions.

This project:

  • delivers an in-depth understanding of off-site fabrication and installation processes to lower-carbon while reducing associated risks;
  • develops and examines commercial products in the construction sector;
  • enables innovative solutions to be identified, developed and rapidly validated by cross-discipline stakeholders and to enter the market; 
  • facilitates plan and delivers optimum efficiency in asset operation (reduced building ‘downtime’); 
  • increases the speed of construction and thus, reduces disruption to the locality by traffic.

The impact of this project will further promulgate new ideas for research in 3D printing and modular connections, embracing sustainability in product development. The resilience of the proposed prototypes will create safer solutions for extreme environments (strong-winds and earthquakes) and long-term (fatiguing) performance to overcome the short lifespan of today’s 3D printed members and structures.

Publications and outputs

A list of outputs and publications is available on the Principle Investigator's staff profile and personal website.

Project website