3D printed foam is real and can be the solution for construction sector

3D printing is a technology that has real potential to revolutionise many industries, including construction. So far it has been 3D printed concrete that has been the most visible but even this innovation is starting to look out of date. Reducing the use of concrete in construction has been highlighted as a key goal given the negative impact it can have on the environment. One solution may now be the use of 3D printed foam.

How does the foam work?

Researchers at Swiss technical university ETH Zürich have been working on the use of 3D printed foam in a recyclable formwork for concrete casting, which can be temporary or stay-in-place. The foam elements in the formwork mean that it is lighter and has better insulation – the integration of the foam could also potentially reduce the use of concrete by 70%. This could be particularly revolutionary for more sustainable construction, not just because of the requirement for less concrete, but also because the foam itself is an eco-friendly product – it is mineral-derived and made from recycled waste.


3D printing for the production of formworks

While concrete 3D printing has been hitting the headlines in the construction world, the reality of it is that it’s unlikely to achieve any kind of mainstream integration. At least in the near future, concrete printing probably isn’t going to have much of an impact beyond projects that are designed to be illustrative, as opposed to practically implemented on a large scale, The use of 3D printing for the production of formworks, however, does have much more potential to be implemented on a large scale. The use of these 3D printed formworks is much simpler, as they can be easily added to existing construction processes.


Where else might the technology be relevant?

Researchers are currently looking at ways in which 3D printed formworks can be produced in the same way as we are currently seeing tools being printed on the assembly line. But that’s not where the potential ends. 3D foam printing could also be used in timber framework, for example, removing the need for manual placement. The goal for the development of the foam is to create freeform, insulated structural building components on demand – it is hoped that this will be possible at some point in the near future.

Improving the sustainability of construction

Researchers currently working with the 3D printed foam are developing their F3DP printing method, which can be used to create complex foam geometries that traditional production methods just don’t allow for. It would enable foam elements to be printed for stay-in-place or temporary applications that can be recycled or removed for later frameworks. If the concrete industry was a country it would be the third most polluting behind only the US and China. So, 3D printed foam that can reduce the need for concrete by 70% could be a sustainability revolution in construction.

3D printed foam is real and provides an exciting way forward to more efficient and sustainable construction in the very near future.

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