20th April 2017, Stuttgart
The Institute for Computational Design and Construction (ICD) and the Institute of Building Structures and Structural Design (ITKE) at the University of Stuttgart have completed a new research pavilion exploring building-scale fabrication of glass and carbon fibre-reinforced composites.
“The novel process is based on the unique affordances and characteristics of fibre construction. Because these materials are lightweight and have high tensile strength, a radically different approach to fabrication becomes possible, which combines low-payload yet long-range machines, such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), with strong, precise, yet limited reach, industrial robots,” researchers explain.
This collaborative concept enables a scalable fabrication setup for long span fibre composite construction. The project was designed and fabricated by students and researchers within an interdisciplinary team of architects, engineers and biologists.
“Within architectural scale production, where material self-weight is of high concern for larger span structures, lightweight fibre composites provide unparalleled performance. However, we currently lack adequate fibre composite fabrication processes to produce at this scale without compromising the design freedom and system adaptability required for the architecture and design industries,” researchers report.
The goal of the ICD/ITKE Research Pavilion 2016-17 is to envision a scalable fabrication process and to test alternative scenarios for architectural application by developing a manufacturing process for long span continuous fibre structures.
The focus of the project is a parallel bottom-up design strategy for the biomimetic investigation of natural construction processes of long span fibre composite structures and the development of novel robotic fabrication methods for fibre reinforced polymer structures.
The aim was to develop a fibre winding technique over a longer span, which reduces the required formwork to a minimum whilst taking advantage of the structural performance of continuous filament. Therefore, functional principles and construction logics of natural lightweight structures were analysed and abstracted in cooperation with the Institute of Evolution and Ecology and the department for Paleobiology of the University of Tübingen.
Two species of leaf miner moths, the Lyonetia clerkella and the Leucoptera erythrinella, whose larvae spin silk “hammocks” stretching between connection points on a bent leaf, were identified as particularly promising for the transfer of morphological and procedural principles for long span fibrous construction. Several concepts were abstracted from the biological role models and transferred into fabrication and structural concepts.
Creating a long span structure, beyond the working space of standard industrial fabrication equipment, required a collaborative setup where multiple robotic systems could interface and communicate to create a seamless fibre laying process. A fibre could be passed between multiple machines to ensure a continuous material structure.
In the specific experimental set-up, two stationary industrial robotic arms with the strength and precision necessary for fibre winding work are placed at the extremities of the structure, while an autonomous, long range but less precise fibre transportation system is used to pass the fibre from one side to the other, in this case a custom-built UAV.
Combining the untethered freedom and adaptability of the UAV with the robots, opened up the possibilities for laying fibres on, around or through a structure, creating the potential for material arrangements and structural performance not feasible with the robot or UAV alone.
The ICD/ITKE Research Pavilion 2016-17 was created by laying a combined total of 184 km of resin-impregnated glass and carbon fibre. The lightweight material system was employed to create and test a single long spanning cantilever with an overall length of 12 m as an extreme structural scenario.
“This research showcases the potential of computational design and construction through the incorporation of structural capacities, material behaviour, fabrication logics, biological principles and architectural design constraints into integrative computational design and construction,” researchers say. “The prototypical pavilion is a proof-of-concept for a scalable fabrication processes of long-span, fibre composite structural elements, suitable for architectural applications.”