During this year’s World Economic Forum, ETH Zurich showcased its latest innovations in Game Technology and robotics. The National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) Digital Fabrication was represented by Prof. Benjamin Dillenburger who explained the audience why digital fabrication can be a game changer for the building industry.

Why should we bring 3D printing technologies to architecture and construction? This was the question which NCCR principal investigator Prof. Benjamin Dillenburger, Assistant Professor for Digital Building Technologies at ETH Zurich, addressed during the IDEAS LAB on “Engineering for Creativity”, organised by ETH Zurich during the WEF 2017 in Davos.

Upscaling 3D Printing Technology for Construction
So far, architects have used 3D printing technology mostly for making prototypes. Dillenburger and his team are now working on the upscaling of 3D printing for architectural applications: “In our research we are trying to scale up printing processes and to bring them to construction sites. We are working with one of the biggest 3D printers of the world. This is a printer that can print 4 x 2 x 1 meters in 36 hours”. The WEF 2017 audience was visibly impressed by the 4.2 Terabyte print space Dillenburger and his team are currently working with.

Creating Fully Integrated and Material-Efficient Building Components
But what is the actual benefit which 3D printing will bring to architecture? “One thing is that we are facing more and more complexity in building elements. Architecture is an overlay of multiple systems that all have to be compressed. And we hope to integrate all these different systems in 3D printed components together. Another important aspect is reducing material. To have material only where it is actually needed”, highlighted Dillenburger during his presentation. At the moment, Dillenburger and his team are working on a ceiling for an actual building project: the Unit Digital Fabrication on the NEST building of Empa in Dübendorf. The prefabricated ceiling will be a combination of 3D sand-printing and reinforced concrete, and will not only be significantly lighter than conventional concrete ceilings, but also integrate thermal activation and acoustic performance.

The WEF 2017 was another great opportunity for the NCCR Digital Fabrication to present its cutting-edge research to academic and economic leaders from around the world, and the NCCR is looking forward to similar occasions.

For further information we recommend you to watch the complete talk by Prof. Benjamin Dillenburger’s during WEF 2017.

Image credits: World Economic Forum / Jakob Polacsek
Image caption: Benjamin Dillenburger, Assistant Professor for Digital Building Technologies, ETH Zurich, Switzerland speaking at the session “Ask About: 3D Printing for Architecture at the Annual Meeting 2017 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, January 19, 2017.