Glass Fiber Reinforced Concrete (GFRC) is not only changing the face of concrete, but it’s providing a world of new product and business opportunities for those already in the industry or for those looking to get started. While GFRC has proven its worth with conventional products like building facades, fireplaces and countertops, advanced mold making technology is taking GFRC beyond the typical applications and opening the door to new creative possibilities.
Made up of a cement-based composite reinforced with glass fibers, GFRC has all the characteristics of regular concrete. A number of additional qualities, however, give it significant advantages. Most obviously, GFRC is up to 80% lighter than concrete, so it’s easier to work with and install. Despite its light weight, GFRC also boasts superior strength and durability, making it a material that can stand the test of time. Add the fact that GFRC is easily molded into intricate and detailed designs in a wide selection of colors, forms and textures, and you’ve got a perfect replacement for precast concrete and an ideal material for a range of creative projects.
BUILDING A NEW FOUNDATION FOR GFRC
The foundation for any GFRC project is a mold. Up until now, given the nature of mold making, building this foundation has been a critical challenge. The specialized nature of mold making has pushed many away from creating molds in-house, so even the most basic of molds tend to be farmed out or purchased – a costly proposition. For those that have taken things into their own hands, creating detailed molds means time-consuming hand carving at the hands of a skilled artisan. Ultimately, many businesses end up relying on a basic set of undifferentiated molds, limiting what they can provide to their customers.
With traditional processes holding back creativity and productivity, it may have been a matter of time before technology came to the rescue. In this case, new mold making technology is simplifying and automating the creation of molds. Thanks to a foam carving system developed by Streamline Automation, the days of hand carving molds are over. This system combines 3D laser scanning, CNC routing and various supporting processes with the versatility of high density foam to create a system that revolutionizes mold making – giving every business involved with GFRC the power to create the kind of molds they want.
TRADITIONAL CRAFTSMANSHIP MEETS ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY
The system’s starting point is its 3D laser scanner and customized software. These components allow molds to be designed without the skills of an artist, bringing mold making to the masses. Starting with a scale model of the piece or just an idea, the user can create an editable data file that forms the basis for the rest of the process. If a physical model of the piece exists, it can be scanned to create a perfect digital replica. If a physical model doesn’t exist, design software can be used to model it in 3D. In both cases, working with data allows designs to be edited, scaled and saved for future use – bringing new levels of flexibility and creative freedom to mold making.
Once the data file has been created, it is sent to a 3D router that perfectly replicates the piece using high-density foam. Creating a negative or positive version with perfect accuracy, scale and detail, the router automates the carving process and eliminates the labor of hand carving. Negatives can be coated with a thin coat of durable material to create an instant mold, while positives form the basis of Streamline’s proprietary mold making processes. The end result of either process is a detailed, durable mold that’s created in a fraction of the time of traditional processes.
TAKING GFRC INTO THE FUTURE
“The combination of automation, accuracy and speed creates a powerful mold making engine that is taking GFRC to where regular concrete can’t go.” explains Streamline President Dwayne Lehman. “It creates molds with unbelievable quality, but it does it with an automated process that anyone can follow. You can now mold whatever you want to, from new takes on traditional products to new products that were cost prohibitive before. We’ve created a way for any business to create their own molds without sacrificing quality and without putting creative control in someone else’s hands.” With this mold making power, the product possibilities for GFRC are endless:
- Detailed architectural elements
- Perfect historical reproductions and restorations
- Eye-catching building facades
- Stunning reliefs and wall art
- Innovative sinks, fireplaces and countertops
- Themed environments and sculptures
This technology is not just about expanding GFRC’s horizons with creative new products. It can also generate new business opportunities. By combining improved creativity with the increased efficiency of an automated system, this is a technology that can give businesses a serious advantage over the competition. As Lehman explains, “this system can not only help GFRC businesses take the next step towards giving their customers exactly what they want, but it can also help them grow their productivity and bottom line. This is a classic win-win situation.” GFRC, welcome to the future.