Swiss researchers 3D print funicular flooring systems to reduce concrete use | 2/5/2019 | Staff
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The construction industry is one of the greatest contributors of greenhouse gasses as one-third of global emissions are attributable to the building sector. A large chunk of those GHG are embodied in the concrete used for flooring systems, so there are various ongoing efforts to reduce the usage of concrete throughout buildings. The key to using less material without sacrificing strength is geometry. An arch is a great example: weight pressed onto the top of the arch gets distributed throughout the whole shape because it resolves forces into compressive stresses while eliminating tensile stresses. A team of researchers from Block Research Group, the Institute of technology in Architecture, and ETH Zurich has used 3D printing to apply that same principle to concrete floors.

Due to their layered nature, 3D prints have tensile strengths lower than most materials in the construction industry, but their compression strength is rather high. By designing ribs and arches into the flooring system, the team can convert thrust forces into compressive forces; this is known as a funicular system. Led by Philippe Block and Tom Van Mele, the engineers used an ExOne S-Max 3D sand printer with a build volume of 1.8 × 1.0 × 0.7m to 3D print five pieces that connect together. “No mechanical connection was used between neighbouring elements. Instead, the compression dominant structural shape of the prototypes allowed for a simple interface design using only male–female interlocking features to guarantee alignment,“ the paper states.

Forms - Thrust - Network - Analysis - TNA

To generate the funicular forms, they used Thrust Network Analysis (TNA) and its software implementation RhinoVAULT; they simulated hundreds of different configurations before fabricating one. The first 3D printed sand floor was fabricated and put through the rigorous tests that ensure materials are up to code and safe for people to use. It faired well but came just 3% shy...
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