FORM{less}_Robotically Thermoformed Molds for Concrete Casting

Mackenzie Bruce + Gabrielle Clune



Tsz Yan Ng


Our thesis investigation focused on robotic thermoforming of plastic for concrete casting. We developed a process that allows for the creation of complex geometries while reducing the amount of material waste used for concrete casting. Using Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol-modified (PETG) as formwork, there is no post-finishing necessary for the cast surfaces. Our research and fabrication work include the development of the heating elements for the PETG molds, the robotic process for forming the PETG, and the designs that emerged through this process.

The setup involves the PETG sheet to be placed in between aluminum plates and is then heated evenly to 160 degrees Celsius. The malleable plastic is then pulled using a customizable magnetic robotic attachment. The integration of robotics not only allows us to achieve precision and repeatability for manufacturing the formwork, but also gives unrestricted opportunity in 3-dimensional deformation. The replicable process allows for rapid prototyping and geometric customization. In nesting the PETG molds with a gap in-between, the developed process for casting allows for thin double-sided components with a smooth porcelain like finish on both sides. This method of creating double-sided building components is explored at various scales of implementation. This ranges from chairs at the human level to roof light wells at the building scale. Due to the modular nature of the components, aggregation for larger building system is possible as panelized units.

Through simulations using SuperMatterTool (SMT) and Kangaroo, as well as combining results from physical prototypes during the semester, our final design investigation focused on profile thinness to the concrete cast, experiential conditions of lighting, and variability of customizable units. The proposed designs emerged through this experimental process leverages the geometric complexity in relation to mass-manufacturing. The building systems devised highlight the cast components’ inherent structural and acoustic performative capability in relation to experiential conditions.