By combining 3D printing technologies with concrete material science two research groups from the National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) Digital Fabrication collaborated on the development of an exceptionally material-efficient concrete canoe. Their design has now won the 1st prize for design innovation at the 26th Concrete Canoe Regatta in Cologne, Germany.

Every other year, a different city in Germany hosts a two day concrete canoe regatta which brings together science and sport. This event motivates researchers to push the boundaries for design and concrete technology. This year, over 1,000 participants from European universities entered 90 boats made entirely out of concrete on the Rhine river in Cologne. The teams competed to be the lightest, fastest, and most beautiful canoe, but the most coveted award is the best design innovation award.

Interdisciplinary Collaboration by Two NCCR Research Groups
This year, a team composed of researchers and students from ETH Zurich’s Digital Building Technologies Group and Physical Chemistry of Building Materials (PCBM) Group joined forces to develop a highly material and weight efficient design for a concrete canoe called the SkelETHon. The final design incorporates recent research by the NCCR Digital Fabriction in 3D printing and concrete technologies and was awarded the 1st prize for design innovation.

Continuous Success
The SkelETHon canoe is not the first canoe with which NCCR researchers as part of ETH Zurich concrete canoe delegations have pushed the boundaries in the field of digital concrete. In 2015, both the Mesh Mould and Smart Dynamic Casting technologies were featured as part of two different canoes in Brandenburg, with the Mesh Mould canoe Queen ElisamEsTH winning the design innovation award.

Innovation in Materials and Construction
This years entry SkelETHon was a four-meter-long boat which had been stiffened with an inner, steel fibre-reinforced concrete skeleton and covered by a three-millimetre waterproof concrete skin. The structural frame was optimised using algorithms that reduce and redistribute material as needed for an efficient skeleton-like structure. This maximised the stiffness of the boat and allowed for the application of a smooth waterproof concrete membrane. Thanks to the innovative digital construction process, researchers and students were able to fabricate a highly complex concrete skeleton with “bones” as thin as 15 millimetres in diameter.

The NCCR Digital Fabrication congratulates the whole SkelETHon team to their resounding success and already looks forward to the 27th Concrete Canoe Regatta.