The potential for digital technologies to revolutionise the world of concrete construction is seemingly limitless. This spurred the initiation of the RILEM Technical Committee on Digital Fabrication with Cement-Based Materials in the past year. In conjunction with the second meeting of the Committee in early January 2017, the National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) Digital Fabrication together with RILEM invited interested parties to an international workshop on the topic.

Initially foreseen as a small-scale event amongst researchers, the attendance of over 140 people from academia, industry, and media was a clear sign for the increasing interest into the topic of digital fabrication with cement-based materials.

Presentations on Cutting-Edge Research on Robotics and 3D Printing with Concrete
After a personal welcome by NCCR principal investigator Prof. Dr. Robert Flatt, Chair of the Physical Chemistry of Building Materials Group of ETH Zurich and Dr. Russell Loveridge, Managing Director of the NCCR Digital Fabrication, Norman Hack and Dr. Ena Lloret-Fritschi, both researchers within the NCCR Digital Fabrication, presented “Mesh Mould” and “Smart Dynamic Casting” as two innovative concrete building processes which are based on the integration of robotic technology. Their talks were followed up by a presentation series on 3D printing of concrete by Enrico Dini from D-Shape, Italy, Prof. Dr. Benjamin Dillenburger, NCCR principal investigator and Chair of Digital Building Technologies of ETH Zurich, Costantino Menna from the University of Naples Federico II, Italy, Dr. Richard Buswell from Loughborough University, England, and Prof. Dr. Theo Salet from the Eindhoven University of Technology, Netherlands. In addition, Dr. Vivien Esnault from LafargeHolcim provided an overview on LafargeHolcim’s current strategy with regard to digital fabrication with concrete. The presentation session closed with a talk by Prof. Jonas Buchli, NCCR principal investigator and Professor for Agile & Dexterous Robotics at ETH Zurich, who summarised the main robotic challenges with regard to robotically steered concrete construction processes.

On the Verge of Something Big
Over the course of the day, presenters and participants came to three main conclusions. First, in order to succeed in research on digital fabrication with cement-based materials, interdisciplinarity is key. Related research projects require the knowledge of architects, civil engineers, materials scientists, and roboticists. Second, in order for research to find its way into related industry, real-scale applications are already a must in the early stages of research. Third and last, both academics and representatives from the concrete industry agreed that even though there are still many research challenges ahead in combining digital technologies with concrete construction processes, science is on the verge of something big. “We will change the way how we build stuff and change the way how we live. And I am sure that some of these things are going to be incredibly beautiful”, stated Dr. Vivien Esnault from LafargeHolcim. At the end of the program, workshop participants received a guided tour through ETH Zurich’s new Robotic Fabrication Laboratory, currently the biggest robotics lab in architecture worldwide.

At the end of the successful international event, NCCR principal investigator Prof. Dr. Robert Flatt and his research group were pleased to announce the 1st RILEM International Conference on Concrete and Digital Fabrication which will be held in Zurich in 2018. The exact dates will soon be announced on the website of RILEM.

For further information, we suggest you to download the RILEM Technical Paper “Digital Concrete: Opportunities and Challenges” which was recently published by an interdisciplinary group of NCCR members.

Presentations for Download

Presentation Dr. Russell Loveridge

The NCCR Digital Fabrication, Dr. Russell Loveridge

Presentation Costantino Menna

3D Printed RC Structures: Concept and Technology, Costantino Menna

Presentation Dr. Richard Buswell

3D Concrete Printing: Ideas to Reality, Dr. Richard Buswell

Presentation Prof. Jonas Buchli

Robotics Challenges in Digital Fabrication in Architecture and Construction, Prof. Jonas Buchli