The casting of concrete is becoming smarter and smarter by the day.

The digitization of concrete casting has revolutionized the way both architects and engineers do their jobs. It is now possible to 3D print concrete in novel geometric patterns that defy belief and produce artistic results. However, it’s not only for aesthetically pleasing results — the concrete slabs are more lightweight, too.

At their thinnest point, these ‘smart slabs’ are only 20 millimeters thick, making them far lighter than a traditional slab of concrete.

Digital Fabrication
Source: NCCR Digital Fabrication

Digital fabrication technology can ensure that a casted slab of concrete holds the structural rigidity of concrete, while showcasing geometrical shaping only a 3D printer and the additive manufacturing process can produce.

Currently, these slabs are being used to build a concrete roof. A three-storey home project, known as the DFAB House, is being built in Switzerland by science, engineering and mathematics scholars from ETH Zurich University.

The process relies heavily on the digital fabrication — the architectural measurements are plugged into the computers, and then the robots begin building. Computer models, CAD software (of which the team have apparently coded their own) and prototyping assists with the fabrication of the elements needed to build the smart structures. CNC milling and 3D printing then finishes the process.

Eleven smart slabs are printed into 7.4 metre long, 78-square-metre segments, individually, and then, joined together on-site.

The project is purportedly the first full-scale architectural project using 3D printed sand printing techniques.

The arrival of digital fabrication means the parts necessary for construction can be produced on demand. This is much quicker than relying on prefabricated parts. In construction, modular fabrication techniques are getting better than prefabrication ever was. Digital technologies and cutting-edge industrial manufacturing equipment makes the process much quicker and ensures the output is of higher quality. On-site fabrication will become the new normal.

Andrew Watts, CEO of Newtecnic, an engineering technology firm, spoke to The Engineer about digital fabrication, and is of the opinion that it is the future. He told the publication:

“Prefabrication is a nice idea, but it doesn’t provide the flexibility needed to put things together where you have a lot of different companies and contractors working together on the same project. There’s often a need to put things together in a sequence where were you don’t just turn up with something, install it and it’s finished. You need to add sequential components later on while there are lots of other people doing work around you.”

Digital Fabrication
Source: Andrei Jipa | dbt

Watts believes robots and drones will be familiar sites on-site as well. The digital world and its mechanisms will unquestionably take over the heavy lifting and monitoring on-site in the future.

Works Cited

“The Smart Slab - 3D-Printed Formwork for a Radical New Concrete Aesthetic.” Dbt, dbt.arch.ethz.ch/project/smart-slab/.

Wade, Andrew. “Digital Builds: The Technology Taking Construction to the next Level.” The Engineer, 7 Aug. 2018, www.theengineer.co.uk/digital-construction-technology/.

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