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Robot-assisted assembly of complex timber structures

 

With the help of robots, it is possible to build complex timber structures precisely and resource-efficiently using readily available, lower-quality timber. The research team worked with 1:1 prototypes to study how digital design and fabrication processes might change timber construction in the future.

Project description (completed research project)

The research team elaborated basic data regarding computer-assisted design and robot-assisted assembly of complex timber structures. These data are essential for the entire timber construction sector because they open up new opportunities for application. The innovative applications in combination with various digital and computer-assisted tools might also serve as a general indicator of the future of digital fabrication in construction.

Background

As resources are becoming scarce world-wide, their efficient use is becoming more important. One approach to this involves the robot-assisted assembly of complex timber structures. This method allows for the precise and efficient production of geometrically varied types of structures. This allows for the sustainable production of complex timber elements.

Aim

The researchers focused on developing novel construction strategies in combination with suitable joining methods for computational design and robot-assisted assembly of complex timber structures. They worked with small and simple elements made of solid construction timber. These are abundantly available and can be assembled efficiently and precisely to form spatially complex structures with the help of industrial robots.

Relevance/application

The significance of the research project lies in the fact that it is closely linked to the practical realm. The researchers used an industrial (applied) production and process technology and collected new, verifiable data that are of importance to the wood manufacturing sector.

Results

Based on a set of criteria, the researchers developed a digital design and fabrication process, in order to investigate novel construction techniques. They then transferred the results and built several 1:1 prototypes (demonstrators). These models provided the analytical basis for the precise characterisation of robot-based fabrication processes and their efficient industrial implementation.

One key conclusion is that geometric, simple butt joints are particularly suited to the sequential, robot-assisted assembly of structural timber frames made of small elements. For this purpose, the researchers developed a new adhesive-based technology for butt joints. This technology is suited to automation and allows for greater geometric variation of the joints itself. The load-bearing capacity of the glued joints can be improved by mechanical surface treatment of the connecting joint faces, e.g. micro-perforation or cone-shaped milled indents.

Based on this joining technique, the researchers developed suitable/corresponding framework typologies. To explore and design such frameworks, they developed computational modelling methods and tools. They were also able to integrate the assessment of the load-bearing capacity into the modelling environment in a seamless, digital workflow. The additive fabrication process, which relies on the precise positioning of the elements and their geometry, has been developed to include a special scanning procedure: each timber element is measured in advance to ensure the necessary precision.

Original title

Robot-assisted assembly of complex timber structures

Project leader

  • Prof. Matthias Kohler, Professur Gramazio & Kohler, Architektur und Digitale Fabrikation, Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich
  • Prof. Fabio Gramazio, Professur Gramazio & Kohler, Architektur und Digitale Fabrikation, Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich
  • Prof. Eduard Bachmann, Architektur, Holz und Bau, Berner Fachhochschule, Biel
  • Prof. Christophe Sigrist, Architektur, Holz und Bau, Berner Fachhochschule, Biel

 

 

Further information on this content

 Contact

Prof. Matthias Kohler Gramazio Kohler Research
Architecture and Digital Fabrication
ETH Zurich
Stefano-Franscini-Platz 1 8093 Zürich +41 44 633 49 06 kohler@arch.ethz.ch