How 3D Concrete is Revolutionising Architecture
New 3D printing technology could push the boundaries of what was thought possible in the concrete construction industry.
At ETH Zurich – the capital’s university – researchers have made the first 3D printed, lightweight concrete slab with an area of 80m2. It marks the world’s first, full-scale architectural project that uses 3D sand printing to create the intricate formwork.
The university has christened the technology the ‘Smart Slab’ and it is to be used as the major component of a new bridge in Zurich.
ETH Smart Slab Facts
- The Smart Slab is just 20mm thick at its thinnest point
- It weighs 15 tonnes
- This is half the weight of a traditionally constructed concrete slab of the same size
- The slab is designed to be as strong as structurally necessary to save materials and weight
- The concrete is glass fibre reinforced
How exactly was the Smart Slab made?
Compared to traditional methods, the ETH Zurich professors used complex software, thousands of calculations, pre-stressing and computer simulations to determine the best ways to make the Smart Slab light. Here’s their process:
- The team planned the formwork using computer software
- The data was then exported to the 3D printing machines
- The formwork was 3D sand printed in pallet-sized sections so that they could be transported to the construction site
- Timber formwork for the upper section of the Smart Slab was constructed alongside and followed a traditional method
- Fibre-reinforced concrete was sprayed onto the sand printed formwork to create the finely ribbed surface of the lower shell of the Smart Slab
- The remaining concrete was cast in the traditional timber formwork
- Every segment had to stand for two weeks while the concrete cured and hardened to an appropriate level, ready to be installed
- The lower Smart Slab, with its intricate design, and the traditional castings were transported to site and installed over a number of days
Concrete is a versatile material that is strong, requires little maintenance and, as ETH Zurich have proven, can be a lightweight alternative to other materials. We’re always interested in the latest developments in the concrete industry and, who knows, this may be a common construction technique in the future!
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