Digital Fabrication Glossary


  • Adaptive building systems

    A building system or component that has the capability to change its behavior or form in direct response to its environment. A complex adaptive system (CAS) may further integrate sensors and an autonomous control system

  • Additive Manufacturing (AM)

    Manufacturing process that builds-up three-dimensional objects by deposition of material either as fine layers (layered deposition) or component voxels (material deposition). Generically referred to as 3D Printing (3DP).

  • Additively Manufactured Joint (AM Joint)

    Connecting nodal element used with linear members in a spatial structure that is fabricated using a 3D printing technology

  • Aerial Manipulator

    An aerial robot (flying drone) outfitted with a manipulator used to interact with contextual objects.

  • Architectural-scale

    Full size and scale identical to the designed measure, and of a size related to building structures, and especially habitable ones

  • Assembly

    A structure composed of individual units (ideally considered as rigid) that can interact bilaterally or unilaterally

  • Assembly process

    Procedure defining how single units of the structure are sequentially and stably put together to create the final, stable assembly

  • Autonomy

    i) the ability to act and make decisions without being controlled externally, ii) In robotics: independence of control and a degree of self-sufficiency in decision making

  • Auxetic surface structure

    A flat-fabricated material or assembly that exhibits uniform translateral expansion when actuated to deform into a double-curved target shape


  • Bilateral material

    A material that can sustain loads reacting with comparable tensile and compressive forces (such as steel, wood, etc)

  • Binder Jetting

    Part of the loosely defined AM taxonomy, it includes all manufacturing techniques that involve the selective activation of specific areas by distribution of a binding compound


  • Calcium Aluminate Cement (CAC)

    Cements consisting predominantly of hydraulic calcium aluminates. Used in rapid setting construction concretes where fast strength development is desired.

  • Calcium Silicate Hydrate (C-S-H)

    The main product of the hydration of Portland cement. Primarily responsible for the strength in cement based .

  • Clinker

    Portion of cement made through the high temperature burning of clay and limestone, responsible for majority of concrete’s environmental impact

  • Compaction

    The process by which a sediment progressively loses its porosity due to the effects of pressure from loading

  • Computational design

    the use of computation to support the designer in solving mathematical or relational logic definitions for the generation and validation of geometries (including design objects and architecture)

  • Computational terrain modelling

    3D modelling (and generation) of terrain using computer software and algorithms

  • Concurrent design and manufacturing

    Involves simultaneously completing design and manufacturing stages of production and requires extensive communication and coordination between disciplines, however the benefits include a sustainable environment for product development and more comprehensively developed results


  • Data-driven design

    Design approach in which empirical and numerical data inform the design in an iterative process

  • Dead-zones

    Dead zone is common in hydraulic valves because the spool blocks valve orifices with some overlap, so that for a range of spool positions there is no fluid flow in the deadzone.

  • Degrees of Freedom (DOF)

    Number of parameters of a system that may vary independently and define its configuration or state. In mechanics, it is the number of independent motions that are allowed to the body or, in case of a mechanism made of several bodies, the number of possible independent relative motions between the pieces of the mechanism.

  • Demonstrator

    Project aimed at demonstrating the performance of a new technology in an operational environment with a system at or near scale of the operational system, with most functions implemented. Architectural demonstrators facilitate the transition from research into a technically mature architectural application

  • Design exploration

    The human-driven, often computer-assisted, divergent/convergent process used to evolve and investigate multidisciplinary design space, with the intent of design and to inform decision making throughout the process

  • Design space

    A constrained parametric space related to the free variables of a design system

  • Digital fabrication

    A design and manufacturing workflow where digital data is creatged and/or used to directly drive numerically controlled manufacturing equipment in the fabrication of part geometries or or end products

  • Distributed Robots

    Robotic devices that are capable of remote operation. Multiple devices are often used in collaboration to achieve a task

  • DPI (dots per inch)

    Measure of spatial printing, video or image scanner dot density, in particular the number of individual dots that can be placed in a line within the span of 1 inch (2.54 cm)


  • Economic impact

    The macroeconomic effect on commerce, employment, income or business development as a result of introducing a technology, programme or policy

  • End effector

    A device or tool connected to the end of a robot arm that interacts with the environment and enables specifc functionality

  • Environmental impact

    The pressure or effect a technology, process or policy has on natural or ecologic systems, human health and resource availability

  • Environmental performance

    The environmental impact of a system as compared to given assessment criteria

  • Environmental performance integration

    An interdisciplinary design approach that endeavours to minimise the overall energy impact of a building in terms of embodied, operational and end of life metrics

  • Equilibrium methods

    Approaches coming from the use of the Limit Analysis' Safe Theorem, for which a structure can be considered safe if an internal admissible stress states in equilibrium with the given loads can be found

  • Excavation pipeline

    Entire software stack involved in autonomous excavation (mapping, planning, control)


  • Fabrication-aware design

    Design that takes into consideration the constraints and opportunities of the chosen fabrication process

  • Framework

    A basic structure underlying a system, concept, or text

  • Free-form

    - surface, - geometry, -object: A 3D geometric element which is not fundamentally composed of strict linear or radial dimensions

  • Funicular

    Refers to the shape a string takes when hung end to end, generalised for non-selfweight loading cases. "Funicular" defines a structure that achieves an equilibrium state by adopting a geometry corresponding to the applied loads. Note: technically, a tension-only shape is "funicular", the inverted compression-only shape is "anti-funicular", however, as such geometry is identical but mirrored, the term funicular is colloquially used to refer to either hanging or arching equilibrium geometries


  • Green Part

    In a 3D printing process the green part is the printed object that has not obtained its final mechanical or other properties. The object goes through another step (typically heat treatment or coating) to form the final object with the desired properties


  • Hybrid AM models

    Schemas using a combination of materials and additive manufacturing (AM) methods within one structure

  • Hydration rate

    The speed with which concrete hardens. The water causes the hardening of concrete through a process called hydration. Hydration is a chemical reaction in which the major compounds in cement form chemical bonds with water molecules and become hydrates or hydration products. Aggregates, e.g. stones, sand gravel are chemically inert, solid bodies held together by the cement

  • Hydraulic Excavator for an Autonomous Purpose (HEAP)

    A customized Menzi Muck M545 developed as an autonomous walking excavator, used by ETH for autonomous use cases as well as advanced teleoperation.


  • Impact

    Impact addresses the ultimate significance and potentially transformative effects of an intervention (positive/negative, intended/unintended)

  • Implementation

    The enaction or process of putting a decision or plan into effect in a functional or real world context; execution

  • Inflatable surface structures

    A double-layered membrane consisting of a network of air-channels that deforms into a programmed target shape when inflated

  • Insertion vector

    Geometrical object representing the direction of assembly from one building element to the other. If the shape of a connector allows for only one possible insertion vector, the connector is said to have only one degree of freedom

  • Integrated design

    A comprehensive holistic approach to design which brings together specialisms usually considered separately

  • Integrated digital process

    Combining digital technologies into a single process

  • Integrative

    Combining two or more fields of expertise, methods, functionalities and/or constraints to form an effective unit, system or process

  • Interwoven structures

    An assembly of thin, planar ribbons that form stable compound 2D or 3D structure through interlacing

  • Inverse Design

    An optimisation driven design process in which the parameters of a design a chosen by inverting a functional performance metric


  • Landscape architecture

    Using computational terrain modeling to design topographic structures for implementation by HEAP

  • Linear axis

    The set of electro-mechanical components dedicated to the motion of one or more parts of the manufacturing setup. Opposed to the rotational axis, the motion involved develops along the segment of a line


  • Macro Level Structural Design

    Design phase of a structure where the arrangement and location of structural elements are determined

  • Macroscopic model

    For structural design, a mechanical model that employs only spring elements to simulate the in-plane and out-of-plane kinematics of elements with plate/shell action

  • Manipulator

    A robot or a device that directly manipulates its surroundings or nearby objects without direct physical contact by an operator

  • Micro Design Structural Design

    Design phase of a structure where individual element size and joint details are determined

  • Model Predictive Control (MPC)

    Advanced method of process control that utilizes a dynamic model to predict the future response of a plant, and computes the optimal control action as the solution of a suitably formulated optimization problem

  • Multi-performance integration

    Design approach which aims at the integration of multiple performative requirements (qualitative and quantitative) and features into a single design

  • Multidisciplinary design optimisation

    The use of optimization methods to refine design problems towards an optimal solution according to specifcally defined criteria or constraints



  • Pavilion

    A stand-alone structure, typically designed and built without intention of full habitation, and therefor also potentially able to neglect key occupancy and regulatory requirements

  • Pellet-Extruder

    A polymer 3D-printing toolhead that uses granular (pellet) materials as feedstock. Usually larger and heavier then off the shelf 3D printers with higher output and lower resolution

  • Performance

    A measure of the capabilities of a system, machine, or product compared to objective evaluation criteria

  • Performance integration

    Integrating performative aspects, qualities or features into the design and fabrication of a project

  • Performative

    Relating to or defined by specifc performance criteria

  • Plastic theory (lower bound)

    Methods based on plastic theory have been developed to determine the collapse load of a structure at its ultimate limit state. The application requires an admissible state of equilibrium, the respect of the yield conditions and a plastic behaviour of the system

  • Pose (field: robotics)

    The 3D location and orientation of a robot of mechanical device at a specific instant with respect to a global frame of reference or origin

  • Predictive computational analysis

    An analysis algorithm to predict certain properties about a physical system

  • Predictive simulation

    A numerical method to predict the static or dynamic behaviour of a physical system

  • Print-bed

    The printing area of a printing device, a 2D section of the printing volume

  • Printhead

    Set of electro-mechanical devices dedicated to the deposition of the printed material (i.e. binder)

  • Prospective integrative work design

    A holistic organisation of tasks, relationships, and responsibilities that includes deliberate consideration for the sharing of tasks between humans and technology, with the aim that technology is developed to better fit worker’s competencies, needs, and values


  • Recoating (BJP)

    The process of depositing the successive layer of particle material on the print-bed, usually followed by the printing routing

  • Resilience

    The capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and still retain its basic structure and viability

  • Rheology

    The study of the flow of matter, primarily in a liquid or gas state, but also as "soft solids" or solids under conditions in which they respond with plastic flow rather than deforming elastically in response to an applied force

  • Robot

    A mechanism guided by a controller that can purposefully act on or in a given environment

  • Robotic Landscaping

    Earthwork conducted by HEAP in an autonomous fashion


  • Scenario approach optimisation

    A technique for obtaining solutions to robust optimization and chance-constrained optimization problems based on a sample of the constraints

  • Sintering

    Heat treatment commonly used to increase the strength and structural integrity of a given material. Powder metallurgy processes use sintering to convert metal powders and other unique materials into end-use parts

  • Social impact

    i) the effect of introducing a technology, programme or policy on the opportunities for stakeholders to reach socially valued goals. ii) the implications for change in work (skills,process or definition) through use or opportunities of technology in achieving individual and organizational goals

  • Socio-technical design

    i) the design and implementation of new technologies into a system, ii) taking both social and technical factors as interdependent elements that influence the functionality and usage of a system

  • Stay-in-place formwork

    Structure that temporarily supports concrete during casting and subsequently remains a permanent part of the concrete element

  • Steel Gel Casting

    Novel approach for manufacturing steel parts harvesting 3D printing technology. Steel is cast at low temperature in a 3D printed mould. The mold is dissolved and the final object is sintered to acquire its final mechanical properties (316L SS)

  • Stiction-friction

    Force that prevents counteracts the onset of motion, i.e. friction force at zero relative velocity between two objects

  • Structural integrity

    Ability of any structure or part of the structure to fulfil general serviceability and load resistance requirements, which are generally defined and agreed in pertinent design codes

  • Sustainable

    The ability of a system to operate in balance within resources or opportunities within a specific boundary context, typically measured against three pillars: economic, social and environment


  • Thermally active building systems (TABS)

    TABS integrate a hydronic pipe network into the structure of a building. Internal building surfaces are transformed into radiant panels, which can be used for heating or cooling purposes. In comparison to air-based space conditioning systems, TABS offer a number of advantages. These include less equipment noise, less draft and an improved vertical air temperature distribution. Further, the utilisation of large surface areas allows a supply temperature of near room temperature for heating and cooling modes. The low temperature range is compatible with the use of renewable energy sources


  • Unilateral material

    A material that can sustain loads reacting only in a direction, that is exhibiting either compressive (masonry) or tensile normal forces (cables). The masonry material, due to the almost negligible strength in tension, can exhibit only internal compressive stress states, and, thus, can be considered an unilateral material

  • Unilateral/bilateral contact

    Internal mechanical contact condition in a material or among blocks. E.g, the generic cross-section of a steel beam is a virtual element showing a typical internal bilateral contact: the two ideal parts of the beams can interact both in tension and in compression. Two vertically stacked and simple supported blocks are in an unilateral contact over a “real” interface and thus exchanging only compressive forces; but if the interface is provided with glue they are interacting bilaterally

  • Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)

    UAVs may operate with various degrees of autonomy: either remotely by a human operator or autonomously using flight computers. Commonly known as a "drone"


  • Weakly supported formwork

    Formworks that use ultra-thin materials (e.g. foil,. Textile) that are tensioned by a light weight framework

  • Weingarten surfaces

    Class of surfaces that is characterized by a relation between their principal curvatures or between their Gaussian curvature and mean curvature

  • Wheeled-Legged Robot

    Type of mobile robot which uses articulated limbs, such as leg mechanisms, with wheels as end-effectors, to provide locomotion

  • Wood-wood (integral) connections

    A joinery technique used to establish a connection between timber elements solely through their geometry (form-closure) and by means of interlocking,without the use of metal fasteners, nails, screws, or adhesive. Digital fabrication techniques and information-tool technologies are used to build the wood-wood connections.