Published on 10 Mar 2022

Me and my robot colleague: Prof Tan Ming Jen

Using 3D printing techniques, Prof Tan Ming Jen of NTU's School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering is revamping the construction industry.

Prof Tan Ming Jen

Technological advances in additive manufacturing, robotics and automation are rapidly changing how we build new products and interact with our environment. Pushing Frontiers talks to three NTU researchers who are leaders in Industry 4.0. They are spearheading the future of construction, developing assistive robots to help the elderly and people with disabilities in various tasks, and shedding light on people’s behaviour towards robotic assistants.

Prof Tan Ming Jen is on a mission. “We need to revamp the construction industry,” says the pioneer in the field of construction 3D printing and a faculty member of NTU’s School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

An engineer with a research background in the mechanical properties of metals, Prof Tan entered uncharted territory when he was appointed a Programme Director (Building & Construction) at the Singapore Centre for 3D Printing (SC3DP)—a collaboration between NTU, Singapore’s Economic Development Board and industry partners.

Fortunately, the shift to a completely different kind of material paid off. Teaming up with multinational conglomerate company Chip Eng Seng Ltd, Prof Tan developed a new formula of 3D printable fluid concrete and printing robots that led to a world first in construction—the printing of an entire unfurnished bathroom within nine hours.

By using concrete created from unwanted incinerator fly ash, which is pressed through purpose-designed printing machinery while still fluid, the new process cuts the time to build unfurnished and prefabricated bathrooms by 30%. It also reduces the construction industry’s large CO2 footprint and reliance on human labour.

“The printed bathrooms are also 30% lighter, thanks to included lattices that help in cooling and insulation,” he says. In collaboration with industry partners, Prof Tan plans to commercialise and scale up the technology for the construction of multi-storey buildings.

Prof Tan is currently the Director of the HP-NTU Digital Manufacturing Corporate Lab—a collaboration between NTU, HP Inc and Singapore’s National Research Foundation—where he manages the Lab’s research programmes in digital manufacturing and 3D printing technologies.

In his capacity as a member of the Global Future Council on Advanced Manufacturing and Production, he also advises the World Economic Forum on advanced manufacturing technologies and their potential use in future business operations and models.

The article appeared first in NTU's research & innovation magazine Pushing Frontiers (issue #19, August 2021).