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Researchers Use 3D Sand Printing for Concrete

Thursday, August 9, 2018

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In the latest addition to the DFAB House, a structure largely made with the use of digital technologies, located in Switzerland, researchers have developed the “Smart Slab”—a concrete slab that is less than half the weight of its conventional counterpart.

ETH Zurich researchers used 3D-printed sand for the formwork fabrication, which is only 20 millimeters thick at its thinnest point.

Smart Slab

According to the institute, the slab, decoratively shaped, combines the strength of concrete with the flexibility of 3D printing. The Smart Slab itself was developed by the research group working with Benjamin Dillenburger, Assistant Professor for Digital Building Technologies at ETH Zurich. The slab has been used as ceiling material in the platform NEST in the DFAB House.

The mold produced to create these panels was created using a large-scale 3D sand printer, which results in the production of a kind of artificial sandstone. To produce these molds, the research team developed software that could fabricate the formwork elements, using data such as room dimensions and a scan of the curved wall.

ETH Zurich

In the latest addition to the DFAB House, a structure largely made with the use of digital technologies, located in Switzerland, researchers have developed the “Smart Slab”—a concrete slab that is less than half the weight of its conventional counterpart.

“We didn’t draw the slab; we programmed it,” said Mania Aghaei Meibodi, Smart Slab project lead and senior researcher in the group. “It would not have been possible to coordinate all these aspects with analogue planning, particularly with such precision.”

The main ribs of each slab bear the loads, while the smaller filigree ribs serve as architectural decoration and acoustics. Lighting and sprinklers are also integrated into the slabs. With this attention to detail only a few centimeters are saved in the DFAB house, but in a larger structure like a high-rise, this could mean the addition of a few floors.

One manufacturer produced high-resolution, 3D-printed sand formworks, which were divided into pallet-sized sections for printing and transport. Another manufacturer fabricated timber formwork using CNC laser cutting. The latter provides shape for the upper part of the Smart Slab, reducing weight by leaving hollow areas that can accommodate electrical cables.

A third company brought the two formworks together by spraying concrete onto the sand formwork and casting what remained in the timber formwork. After a two-week hardening process, the 11 concrete segments were ready for transportation and installation.

The DFAB House also uses elements from the Spatial Timber Assemblies project, an endeavor that implements computers to design individual units, beginning with a robot sawing timber beams down to the correct size.


Tagged categories: Ceilings; Color + Design; concrete; Research and development

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