FoamWork

Building geometrically complex formwork for concrete elements that are optimized for resource-efficiency is often wasteful and labor intensive. FoamWork explores how foam 3D printing (F3DP) can be used to produce unique shapes for functional stay-in-place or temporary and recyclable formwork in concrete casting. The resulting mineral composite elements can save up to 70% concrete, are lighter, and feature improved insulation properties. The printable mineral foams based on recycled waste are developed at ETH Zürich in collaboration with FenX AG.

The flipped prototype slab with exposed underside. © Digital Building Technologies, Patrick Bedarf

A prototype demonstrates this approach with the generic geometry of a 2 x 1.3m ribbed slab with point supports in every corner. The rib layout follows the isostatic lines derived from the principal stress pattern. The resulting geometry requires 24 formwork elements in 12 unique shapes.

Robotic foam 3D printing setup. © Digital Building Technologies, Patrick Bedarf
Printed formwork elements. © Digital Building Technologies, Patrick Bedarf

All foam elements are fabricated with a robotic foam 3D printing (F3DP) setup. They are placed manually inside a conventional timber perimeter formwork before casting ultra-high-performance fiber-reinforced concrete (UHPFRC). After curing, the timber formwork is removed from the prototype and the structural building element is completed.

Preparation of the printed formwork. © Digital Building Technologies, Patrick Bedarf
Demolding of the prototype. © Digital Building Technologies, Patrick Bedarf

This novel fabrication approach is envisioned to significantly impact the responsible and sustainable consumption of resources and energy in the building industry. It enables the manufacturing of geometrically complex foam elements that were previously unfeasible and wasteful to produce with conventional methods. The foam shapes produced with F3DP can be used as stay-in-place applications or removed and recycled for printing the next formwork.

Closeup of the slab prototype. © Digital Building Technologies, Patrick Bedarf
Closeup of the slab prototype. © Digital Building Technologies, Patrick Bedarf
Closeup of the slab prototype. © Digital Building Technologies, Patrick Bedarf

Credits Research Digital Building Technologies (DBT), ETH Zurich with FenX AG
Team DBT Anna Szabo, Patrick Bedarf, Prof. Benjamin Dillenburger
Team FenX Etienne Jeoffroy, Michele Zanini, Enrico Scoccimarro, Alex Heusi, Kay Sanvito, Sean Tien, Oliver Bruni
Technical Support Tobias Hartmann, Philippe Fleischmann, Andreas Reusser, Michael Lyrenmann, Yael Ifrah, Georgia Chousou, Hang Zhang, Bharath Seshadri, Andrei Jipa, Tiziano Derme
Funding Innosuisse 41905.1 IP-EE, NCCR 51NF40-141853
Sponsoring Beakert, Kinematica

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