ETH doctoral student produces lightweight components using 3D printing

Zurich/Turgi AG – Patrick Bedarf has used 3D printing at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH) to produce stable and insulating components from sustainable mineral foam, which the ETH spin-off FenX produces from industrial waste. These can also be completely recycled.

As part of his dissertation in Professor Benjamin Dillenburger’s Digital Construction Technologies group at ETH Zurich, Patrick Bedarf produced lightweight and insulating components using 3D printing to save on materials. According to an ETH report, he used sustainable insulation material produced by the ETH spin-off FenX in Turgi from industrial waste such as fly ash.

“Their mineral foam is an innovative building material that contributes to a more climate-friendly industry,” Bedarf is quoted as saying. And “unlike when pouring concrete, no formwork is required”. Their production is very complex and they can only be reused to a limited extent. In addition, the waste generated during the production of complex geometries is “a major challenge”.

By combining 3D printing with robotics, even complex components can be shaped cost-effectively, says Bedarf. A video shows that at the end of the robot arms hanging from the ceiling in the ETH research and robotics laboratory Arch Tec Lab are print heads from which the material is applied layer by layer. “We program the path and tell them where to go and how fast. And how much material should come out of the print head at what point and in what time,” says Bedarf.

The lightweight Airlements – a play on the words air and elements – can be printed in a factory, then brought to the construction site and installed. So far, they can be used as insulating exterior or interior walls. However, if their hollow core is filled with denser foam, they can also take on load-bearing functions. At the end of their life cycle, they are completely recyclable. At FenX, the Airlements are now being developed further together. ce/mm