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3D-Printed Concrete Formwork

Picture: ROK Architekten

3D printing allows highly complex formwork to be created for walls or facades that would otherwise be impossible or incredibly difficult.

The BASF experts from the Scouting & Incubation unit in Dübendorf, Switzerland, are combining their know-how with the excellence of Swiss research institutes and other industrial partners. The result is a boost to innovation in the field of digital architecture.

Strong and highly capable yet light and easy to form into many different shapes, the high-performance material that is concrete is taking on another dimension in the age of digital planning and manufacturing. Seamlessly linking digital technologies to the physical construction process makes it possible to implement a hitherto inconceivably wide variety of shapes in architecture and can be pivotal in improving efficiency in production and the sustainability of buildings. Custom-made formwork can be produced with a 3D printer and then poured with concrete mixtures optimized for this purpose.

Highly complex shapes thanks to 3D printing

3D printing is a computer-controlled additive manufacturing process in which workpieces are built up in layers. This method allows highly complex shapes to be designed for construction projects, including not only the building elements themselves but also their formwork – i.e. the negative. Thanks to the flexible design possibilities that 3D printing offers, formwork can be created for walls or façades that would otherwise be impossible or incredibly difficult. Material properties can be exploited more creatively and efficiently and for more specific purposes with the aid of this digital construction technology. Examples of architectural projects that have come about by means of digital planning and additive manufacturing include new, structurally optimized types of ceiling elements or prefabricated staircase elements.

Innovative collaboration on digital planning and manufacturing

Working with two academic research partners and other industrial partners from various stages of the value chain, BASF has managed to turn an idea for concrete formwork into a very impressive model project within a short space of time. The cooperation includes ETH Zurich, which not only plays a leading role in the Swiss National Science Foundation's (SNSF) National Centre of Competence in Research Digital Fabrication, but is at the forefront of the development and integration of digital construction technologies worldwide. Empa, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, is another prestigious cooperation partner that bridges the gap between academic research and industrial applications.

 

BASF contributes to this cooperation not least through the comprehensive set of skills in 3D printing brought to bear by the team from BASF 3D Printing Solutions GmbH. Its innovative scan-to-print system opens up the possibility of manufacturing form-active and self-supporting building elements with much less material than usual – up to 70 percent less despite maintaining the same strength. This is helping to make construction smarter, easier and more sustainable.