Robotic Wood Tectonic
The DADA Digital Factory workshop “Robot-Assisted Assembly in Timber Construction” led by ICD research associates Abel Groenewolt and Oliver David Krieg in collaboration with Jian Ming Huang explores a digital fabrication concept that allows the construction of free-form geometry without relying on elaborate measuring techniques or geometric specificity of the building parts. By using an industrial robot as an assembly assistant, simple, regularly shaped objects can be accurately placed at any desired location. In effect, by encoding the geometric specificity in the assembly process instead of in the material, elaborate timber structures can be built out of standard and widely available building materials. Following this new fabrication paradigm, robotic assembly of off-the-shelf building elements is employed to build pre-fabricated segments of the bearing structure of a doubly curved wooden wall. These segments fit within the working space of an industrial robot and are small enough to be transported easily. Once positioned on-site, the segments are combined with a cladding layer that consist of wooden strips, which were produced using a more common production method: precise CNC milling of unique parts. By combining these two fabrication paradigms, the strengths of the various tools and actors in the process are employed strategically: the industrial robot works in a controlled environment assembling segments that fit within its reach, while human labor is mostly employed on site in a safe environment, assembling pieces that have pre-drilled screw holes and can only be placed in a single way, thus avoiding the need to measure. This results in a very fast production method: the robotically assembled elements can be produced at a speed of one square meter per hour and on-site assembly of the complete wall took less than one day. During the workshop, the students were introduced to a computational design tool that was specifically developed for this project. Taking a free-form design surface as input, the tool generates a buildable structure within the material and machine constraints. A simulation of the robotic assembly process and export of robot control files are fully integrated in the computational design process. The closed digital chain from design to fabrication not only allows for innovative pre-fabrication in timber construction, but also for novel and expressive architecture.