Thursday, February 04, 2016

Supported Extrusion 3D Printing

It’s been a busy week for architectural 3D printing news with several good options to discuss but one breakthrough stands above the others. I was quite happy to see the efforts of the Bartlett School of Architecture, UK, reported by in regards to their cementitious 3D printing achievements using a supported extrusion technique. This method begins the placement of a cementitious material by a robotic head unit similar to that which is used by other firms but differentiates itself by simultaneously laying down a granular support material. After manufacturing once removed the process leaves a distinctive pattern the designers call “Fossilized” and I call “circuit board”. The process represents progress toward refining cementitious 3D printing technology by allowing for smaller detail tolerances. Unoforunately factors such as the process’s structural strength and long-term performance are still underreported and therefore a certain amount of skepticism is still warranted before calling this technology useful architectural 3D printing. I also question the qualifications of a group of designers to tackle what is essentially a mechanical engineering problem. Absolutely their design aesthetic is beyond reproach but where are they getting expertise in process, control, chemical and mechanical engineering? Food for thought at this technology continues to improve.    

Agree? Disagree? Share your comments below.                                                                                   

Friday, January 29, 2016

Parametric Structural Design

I’ve been excited for this post for a couple of days now. I’ve been all over computational architecture for the last year and this Autodesk example extends that theory further. The ability to quickly test engineering design iterations with Dynamo has all sorts of interesting applications in finding novel and efficient engineering solutions. Dynamo, for those not in the loop, is an open source visual programming add-on for REVIT. But architecture is not the only domain parametric design can be utilized. Autodesk React Structures, based loosely on the REVIT BIM platform, is one of Autodesk’s enterprise level structural engineering applications. The program comes with a build in set of comprehensive programming tools for the analysis of complex structures. But adding the visual Dynamo interface lets designers try many complex structural variations to see if anything interesting or inspiring comes out. Normally to redo these engineering calculations strictly for experimentation is cost prohibitive. Much of the linked example might be over the reader's head - as it was mine - but I thought it a worthy example to squirrel away because it tells a story of where the AEC industry is going. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Dutch Cementitous 3D Printing Project

I was excited to post this article about 3Dprinting concrete but first the bad news: The technology is still not big enough for what I wanted to use it for. That said, the article is a nice introduction to some of the changes 3D printing is expected to bring to design.

Dutch 3D printer manufacture Opiliones worked with designer Michiel van der Kley to establish Project Next which aims to solve the coveted goal of “a 3D printable bio-concrete and an accompanying 3D printer capable of making complete architectural spaces”. From what I can tell – at least initially – if by “architectural spaces” they mean spaces you’d need to crawl and squeeze into, mission accomplished. So yeah, scalability is still a factor. The project was focused on developing environmentally sustainable concrete and in the process experimented with several mixes including limestone, hemp fibers, flax fibers, etc., but ultimately I see the role of green building materials in architecture as presupposed and not something I need to be convinced of.  

What did catch my eye, however, was designer Van der Kley’s comments about how radically 3D printing will change what forms are possible architecturally. This is an facet of architectural 3D printing I am already engaged in. Sometimes it can be tough to described how architectural 3D printing affects form; therefore it becomes doubly difficult to predict how the technology will change architecture in the future. But that’s where I want to be: already where the crowd is going. And part of how to

get there is to understand theoretically where is going on aesthetically and economically with the technology.

In the piece Van der Kley’s calls for a “new design language”, the main thrust of his argument being that new techniques – such as 3D printing – require a new descriptive language. But here I must disagree with the good designer. When I look at the sculpture I immediately see math. In fact there are a variety of mathematical interpretations of the work: Manifolds defined by differential geometry; hyperbolic surfaces, etc. Nature also has a wealth of examples because anytime a membrane is put under tension it is capable of displaying this type of behavior and probably if I had more time we could narrow down an example from the human body, like the stomach lining or something. I think what Van der Kley really means is explained in the last paragraph, about the acceptance of such forms by the public. But his line of reasoning seems to assume he discovered the end of all possible forms of cementitious 3D printing, neglecting creative ideas from future architects and designers or further advances in the technology. A position which is hard to support.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Now You Finally 3D Print Star Wars Figurines At Your Desk!

Hype for 3D printing was turned up all the way to 11 at this year’s CES in Las Vegas - promising everything including“limitless possibilities”. There appears to be some substance behind the hype with several manufactures showing interest in the field. Strong competition in the sector bodes well for consumers. One of the highlights was ROBO 3D’s new R2 product lineup which introduces a set of mature consumer-friendly 3D printers stylish enough to sit on a desk while being affordable enough to buy for the office. The printer’s small form factor and Wi-Fi connectivity echoes how laser printers shrunk and shed wires during the last 10 years.

So what would if I got one? First off, family and friends would probably receive 3D printed necklaces and broaches on all occasions! But more to the point, one could at least start practicing 3D model making. My first introduction to 3D modeling was a slog. 3D printing has a steep learning curve in regards to 1) understanding the behavior of the printed material (too thin, too thick, etc.) and 2) how to use the complex 3D modelling software. Learning both is an uphill battle and the sooner one starts the sooner one will understand how to model replacement parts for broken things around the house.

Left unsaid in the glowing press coverage is the newly released printer’s failure rate; an important metric in consumer 3D printing. In my experience failure rates are still higher than normal when compared to other consumer goods. It’s a bit random when your continuous printing process fails. Imagine if your toaster burnt your toast 1 out of every 10 mornings; you’d think it’s a piece of junk. But such failures rates are still common in consumer-focused 3D printing, no doubt a facet manufactures are looking to reduce as a selling point. I’d also really like to see a closed looped 3D printer; where the used material can be recycled in the machine again. This – in my opinion - is sort of the holy grail of rapid desktop prototyping. 

Thursday, January 07, 2016

2016 AEC Industry Forecast. Now with Comments!

I’m a sucker for forward looking articles. I’m always on the lookout for predictions of substance on topics I’m passionate about. Reading through Engineering News Record’s 2016 construction trends article I found some useful highlights. But first an apology; I’m really really sorry for the forced Christmas song structure the article takes at points. I’m sure it was just meant as light-hearted attempt to make the article more readable at Christmas but for me, it just makes the article longer without adding quality content. And it’s after Christmas. Below are the article’s main suggestions with my comments:

  • Economic forecast for North America looks vaguely positive. I vaguely agree.
  • Adopt future technology. Chances are if a firm isn’t already planning to do this they have much bigger problems.
  • Try to understand global factors. Always good advice but where does one find the time?
  • Aging Infrastructure. Did the author really just predict infrastructure would get older in the future?
  • Sustainability. I’m so far past this trend. I consider sustainability factors core to all modern building design. 
  • Take care of: experienced staff members, long-standing satisfied customers, solid financials and reputation. I don’t get this one. Isn’t this just common sense in the 21st century marketplace? Nor is this specific to the AEC industry.
  • Expect rare events. The author evidently read Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan in 2015.
  • More women in the AEC industry. About time. Let’s keep moving forward on this.
  • Firms should focus on their social responsibility. This is insightful if one accepts the assumption the values of the marketplace are shifting. Other firms will probably still advocate advertising in newspapers.
  • Safety. Yes. Let’s continue to encourage amazingly safe working conditions for all involved in building endeavors.
  • Alternative energy will continue to grow in importance. I will only add solar panels are easier to integrate into a good design than windmills.  
  • The winning 2016 presidential candidate will have an effect on AEC industry. So think carefully. While trivially true I’d also like to point out the current crop of presidential candidates’ building design credentials are underwhelming.
Any comments from our readers? I know you’re out there. Are these predictions insightful? Too trivial? Cheesy?

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Architectural 3D Printing is Robotic Construction

For the last post before the Christmas I wished to focus on an AECMag article entitled “Rise of the Robots”. Highlights from the lengthy piece include insights about drones, modular building techniques and architectural 3D printing.

Early into my architectural 3D printing research I made the connection between architectural 3D printing and drones: One - that the technologies tended to blur together on a continuum and two - the future will look nothing like we expected. The article highlights a number of different drone designs for construction applications and they don’t look anything like the drones from Star Wars who built the Death Star. Notably the brick laying robot Hadrian from Australia would make an excellent Minecraft robot with some slight modifications changing bricks to cubes.

I was happy to see UC Berkeley, previously mentioned on the blog, acknowledged for its continued research into materials and printing methods. Each MIT and the Institute of Advanced Architecture of Catalonia continue to advance swarm robotics (which directly relates to the use of multiple drones on a project). And in 2015 Dutch company MX3D, also previously mentioned on the blog, introduced an ambitious project to 3D print a 12 foot bridge using a wire welding robotic arm (see above). Once finished, I would not hesitate to cross over it. London-based D-Shape is also in there, leaders in 3D printing cementitious material who ignored my emails to purchase samples last summer.

I think the article does a good job outlining the history of architectural 3D printing and some of the obstacles facing early adoption but strains credibility when suggesting only signature firms are interested in technological approaches or complex forms when I think the exact opposite bares out in reality; that all AEC firms, almost without exception, want to be seen as technologically sophisticated. I was also less than enthused with the focus on 3D printing habitats on Mars and the Moon. The topic is too narrow with too many constraints specific to those alien locations to be helpful building on Earth. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Modern Building Systems Effect on Modern Building Design

The development of modern building systems like HVAC and potable water had a major impact on the character of architectural design. Never before had the architect been asked to design sophisticated ventilation networks or heavy structural countermeasures. Increasingly complex public health and building safety were the pressures driving these changes and each was absent from the minds of Greco-Roman and Renaissance architects et al.

The need for interdisciplinary collaboration nor articles calling for its implementation are anything new. The linked article makes a strong point near the end of the piece arguing BIM establishes just such functionality but first the bad: There is little effort on the part of the author to analyze current obstacles to collaboration. In my experience designers, consultants, and contractors on a project - each fundamentally necessary to its completion - can be downright hostile to each other. Certainly there is enough blame to go around for this situation, nor can this behavior be assumed to be universal but in the meantime, it must be said, the article sheds little light on why collaboration fails in AEC projects.

Where I do express agreement is that - at least technologically – as building information modelling has matured collaboration has improved. This has allowed different disciplines to offer and receive accurate information earlier in the building design process leading to fundamentally more valuable buildings.  Quoted in the article, Andrea Scotti, director of Burohappold Engineering in Abu Dhabi, explains BIM's role in collaboration thusly: “In terms of difficult projects to coordinate on, I would say that a few years ago this would have been technical in nature, related to complex structures or geometry. Nowadays, technology is there to help reduce these complexities.” 

Monday, December 07, 2015

Improving High Rise Building Structural Design

We don’t often get the opportunity to cover innovations in the structural design of high rise buildings because improvements are so often incremental. The development discussed below is perhaps most applicable to locations with high seismic loads, a topic put on my radar after my experiences living overseas.

Kinetica, a University of Toronto research spin-off, is attempting to bring a new product to market for damping seismic and wind loads in high rise structures. I’m not sure how much market demand exists for such an innovation as their work seems to have been heavily subsidized. Be that as it may, their technology indisputably offers benefits for the construction of concrete high rise buildings.

Comparing first steel structures; it’s a rather trivial process to place decoupling devices in either braces or walls because they’re exposed. However, with cost structures changing, more and more projects are utilizing concrete in high rise construction. The long thick walls which characterize concrete high rise construction lack areas to integrate high performance damping systems in. This leads to the use of heavy counterweights high above to dampen swaying. 

The damper braces introduced by the company are made of large sheets of a rubber-like material — known as a viscoelastic polymer — sandwiched between steel plates. (Seen in yellow in the above picture during the testing phasing.) They work by absorbing vibrational energy and transforming it into heat energy, thereby reducing the stresses transferred into adjacent structural elements. The company’s founders Michael Montgomery and Constantin Christopoulos’ key insight was “to realize that there was a place to put viscoelastic dampers into a concrete building after all: the coupling beams. These smaller, horizontal concrete beams are used on each floor to connect the two giant walls together and increase the rigidity of the building. Under high winds and earthquakes, these smaller coupling beams become heavily stressed, so replacing them with something that can absorb energy — like a viscoelastic damper — seemed like an ideal solution.”  

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Tour of Canadian Cancer Lab

We change topics somewhat this week to learn a little bit more about the author of this blog. Regular readers not interested are invited to return next week for more architectural and structural engineering news and opinion.
Readers can catch themselves up on basics of the Birdsell Family and Friends Brain Cancer Research Fund through our team page, included is a YouTube video summarizing the fund’s mission.
I had the pleasure November 23rd of touring the lab of Dr. Mahoney, a immunology microbiologist at the University of Calgary Heritage Medical Research Building, by invitation of the Canadian Cancer Society. Though his research is not directly supported by the BFFBCRF’s initiative, our efforts in turn are supported by the Canadian Cancer Society which endeavors to connect donors with the fruits of their labour. 

Oncologic Immunology uses viruses, both natural and genetically modified, to 1) kill cancer cells and 2) trigger the body’s natural immune response to fight cancer. Much of Dr. Mahoney’s research focuses on how this chain of events occurs and he does it, in part, by leading an absolute all-out assault on the state-of-the-art in medical imaging. The tour unfortunately did not include what was described as the “Cadillac of microscopes”, even though it’s capabilities far exceed what one remembers from high school science class. Kept in the basement in a bio-secure area, along with the intrepid mice of science, it has the ability to stain different tissues in the sample different colours and film the response in real time (or time lapse). The images feel slightly abstract seen against a black background but with practice one can start to understand the behavior of the virus toward cancer in a live mouse model. It seemed with every new video clip presented Dr. Mahoney introduced a new discovery never observed before.

Next, touring the wet lab, outfitted just like a movie set would decorate a science lab, the theme of state-of-the-art technology continued. The automation of experimentation appears to be a boon for Dr. Mahoney’s lab, not only in the breath of testing possible but also in its exactly repeatable nature. So yeah, robots. The non-descript black box seen at the beginning of the clip is actually an automated microscope, something heretowith I’d been ignorant of. It can track, in total, over 20 000 tests. This is important when testing against the human genome. If I’m understanding the presentation correctly, there is a process by which each of the 20 000 genes is suppressed in sequence and then the whole thing run twice more for verification. The influence of big data and analytics was the biggest thing not seen on our tour. 

The BFFBCRF thanks the Canadian Cancer Society for organizing the event and wishes Dr. Mahoney and his lab the best of luck in their research!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Architectural Features Featured In 3D Printed Book

We celebrate this week a project which brings together a few this blog’s favorite things: architectural 3D printing, art history and books. “Twenty Something Sullivan” is a retrospective of ArchitectLouis Sullivan’s early work by Tom Burtonwood and Tim Samuelson (both of Chicago) who took examples of Sullivan’s architectural ornamentation in the public domain and 3D printed them in a unique book (pictured below).

I find this project exciting for a couple different reasons: Firstly, Sullivan’s work is beautiful (as typified by the above image of his Flatiron Building ca. 1900). Sullivan’s work marks the establishment of modern building techniques like steel framing but still retains the luscious organic ornamentation of age borrowed from neo-classical and beaux-art trends. I accept not everyone in the 21st century - with our clean lines and pure volumes – values rich ornamentation but hopefully that can be addressed somewhat by my second point: As stated previously on this blog I think the first wave of architecturally 3D printed products will be architectural features. This book is mostly there, falling short only in two areas; it’s a book of ornaments not used architecturally and it’s 3D printed in plastic – a fancy space age plastic to be sure – but with different materials now available for 3D printing, as referred to on this blog, other options might have been more desirous and interesting. I, for one, would love to see these reproductions completed in a cementitious material. 


Hesitating to give a full review to a book I have not read, I would love to see this book up close, especially given its ability to bring a tactile quality to presenting architectural ornamentation. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Foster and Partners Integrated Design Approach for Structural Engineering

I recently read the linked Institution of Structural Engineers article with great interest hoping to learn about Foster + Partners’ internal structural engineering program. Sadly the article was a bit thin on grand strategic vision instead focusing on Foster + Partners’ recently completed Ch√Ęteau Margaux in France. The wine making factory - given its Sir Normal Foster design credentials and nomination for a 2015 Structural Award in the commercial or retail structures category - make it one of the most expensive and elite wine-making facilities in the world. Custom details provided for the project like the “tree” columns (an image of which accompanies this post) must make the building a joy to work in. Unfortunately the subject of the article, Roger Ridsdill Smith, structural engineering program lead, had little to say on the topic of integration.
To be fair, Smith might have been very forthcoming during the interview but, for “journalistic” reasons, the interesting bits cut. The article for me boils down to Smith’s claim the best projects arise from a “totally integrated approach”. It’s 2015 and I just don’t think that statement is groundbreaking anymore. Isn’t multi-disciplinary integration assumed to be a best practice in building design? Are people making arguments to the contrary I’m not aware of? What I was really hoping for from the article was insights on how to best bring the project team together for common cause and what obstacles can normally be expected.

To that end, The Perfect Architecture Company blog invites Roger Smith to be interviewed here about integration in the building design process should he wish to share his thoughts on this important matter to a grateful audience. 

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

5 Challenges Facing Structural Integrity and Systems Performance

Lloyd’s Register Foundation - yes that venerable insurance company’s charitable arm – offers us their vision for future issues facing the structural engineering industry. Though the path to this information seems contrived - coming via Jakarta, Singapore, and Peru - some of the highlights I’ve pulled together below are legitimately insightful. As one reads the list I certainly believe the concerns of an insurance company do come through but real foresight is also contained within. The report frames their claims thusly: "The Foundation’s Foresight review of structural integrity and systems performance identifies the key safety challenges that exist in structural integrity and systems performance".

1. The safety of systems containing 3D and 4D additive manufactured parts, including:
  • The new field of 4D printing, where the shape of a 3D printed item can change by a self-activated process triggered by the environment.
  • Research into the mechanisms of in-service degradation to ensure long-term integrity of additive manufactured parts.
  • Ensuring appropriate recognized training exists for those operating and creating parts by additive manufacturing.
2. Engineering science challenges: advancing the state-of-the-art to maximize safety, including:
  • Complex loading – modelling how force is transmitted between environment and structures.
  • Residual stress engineering to increase fatigue life.
  • Assurance of long-term performance of coatings.
3. Development of an economic whole-system approach to demonstrate safety and integrity.

4. Data-centric engineering, including:
  • Designing for data, recognizing that embedded sensors, intelligent systems and data management will form part of engineering design requirements.
  • Promoting data availability for public use including academic research and system improvements.
  • Data analytics, coordinating with the work of the Alan Turing Institute to analyse data quickly and identify actions.
5. Minimizing the risks associated with maintenance and inspection, including:
  • Use of drones and robots to conduct inspection and/or maintenance.
  • Developing assets and systems that are able to monitor their own condition.
  • Design and build structures and equipment that require no maintenance or inspection.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Moving The Use of Building Information Modelling in the Construction Industry Forward

Writer Jeffrey Pinheirol’s has an interesting post up about what contractors are looking for in the BIM models they receive. I’m actually already sold on the benefits of looking forward in the building process for how best to structure the building data but his post contains some good practical advice about how to best approach this goal. The first take away for myself was that we should all be using REVIT’s build-in assembly code parameters in our models. Having each model element associated with its matching UNICODE format data greatly facilitates the estimating process (and by extension the tendering process). For myself, I think tagging model elements with assembly code data represents easy low hanging fruit which any firm can take implement of with very little investment.

Secondly, the writer touches on an issue central to the development of BIM. The coordination of the required level of detail in any given project has been a difficult goal to achieve for the BIM community. While the consequences of either over-modelling or under-modelling a structure are clear. Less well understood is agreed upon definitions of differing levels of development and detail within a project. Fundamentally this is a communications issue which manifests itself with inconsistences in the deliverables. This issue is an obstacle especially for distributed teams and integrated building design workflows which require a shared language to continually move the design forward. AIA’s Level of Development package is a good starting point for establishing agreed upon levels of development but certainly project partners have also stepped in to define the model’s level of completeness on a case-by-case basis.