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19th September 2017, Chattanooga, TN

Branch wins NASA’s 3D printing challenge

A team formed by Branch Technology and Foster+Partners has taken top prize in NASA’s Centennial Challenge, which aims to advance the fundamental construction technologies necessary to create off‐world habitats. Out of 77 registered teams, five teams qualified to compete in the final level of the competition held at Caterpillar’s Demonstration and Learning Center in Edwards, IL, last month.

Tasked with producing three beams, three cylinders, and a dome out of indigenous Martian regolith and recyclable materials, Branch Technology won all segments of the competition. Performing better than any other team, the structure was able to take double the load of a competing concrete dome in the stress test at a maximum load of 1,694 kg.

Branch Technology’s structure was able to take double the load of a competing concrete dome in the stress test at a maximum load of 1,694 kg. © Branch Technology

The competition demanded that all structures be 3D printed within a 22‐hour time frame and with the required material constraints, geometric tolerances and autonomous performance. Strength was the ultimate determining factor in the win, the company reports. This competition is the first of many steps in NASA’s vision to construct extra‐terrestrial habitats.

Exploring new territories

“Foster + Partners and Branch Technology share the common goal of exploring new territories in design and fabrication on Earth and beyond. For this reason, the competition served as an excellent platform for collaboration,” said project leader Melody Rees. “It was an exciting partnership among architects, engineers, and materials designers that allowed us to exceed the standards set by NASA.”

Rees also recognised the support of robotics engineering company Kuka and materials design experts Techmer PM. “It really was a total team effort – everyone who worked on this project brought enthusiasm and intense determination to push the boundaries of the current technology.”

3D printed construction

While the NASA competition was about brute strength, Branch also demonstrated a different way of thinking about 3D printed construction by producing a second dome structure with its patented Cellular Fabrication (C‐Fab) method. In terms of strength to weight ratios, C‐Fab technology is much more efficient because it minimises material use while maximising strength through geometric optimisation, the manufacturer explains.

Project leader Melody Rees recognised the support of robotics engineering company Kuka and materials design experts Techmer PM. © Branch Technology

“Extraterrestrial construction has the massive challenge of transporting and processing materials in space, so we produced a second, lightweight dome to illustrate there is a different way of thinking about the challenge,” said Platt Boyd, CEO of Branch Technology, Inc. “Branch Technology is taking construction into a new era. C‐Fab allows virtually unlimited design freedom using economical construction materials, faster on‐site fabrication, and reduced waste. The result is democratized design freedom along with improved resource stewardship.”

The next phase of the NASA challenge is currently under development, and will focus on fabrication of complete habitats.

www.branch.technology

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