On Site Robotics modernizes construction with large-scale 3D printing system and camera drones

Apr 4, 2017 | By Benedict

Barcelona’s IAAC (Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia) has teamed with Basque technology company Tecnalia to develop On Site Robotics, a 3D printing construction project in which sustainable, low-cost buildings can be built with 100% natural materials.

The On Site Robotics 3D Printing System in action

The city of Barcelona is populated with some of the most unusual and offbeat architecture in all of Europe. Home to Gaudi’s unfinished Sagrada Família, Jean Nouvel’s Torre Agbar, and a wild mix of Catalan Art Nouveau and contemporary buildings, the coastal city is a joy to explore and behold. Luckily, Catalonians are showing no signs of abandoning their love for innovative and unusual architecture, and this year’s Construmat construction fair will showcase a brand new additive manufacturing construction project from Barcelona’s IAAC and its Bilbao-based technology partner, Tecnalia.

According to the IAAC, On Site Robotics is a new collaborative project which demonstrates how additive manufacturing and robotics can be used in tandem to fabricate sustainable, low-cost buildings that can be built on site with entirely natural materials. It combines ultra-modern robotics practices, such as the use of cable robots and drones, with digital 3D design and 3D printing, and its aim is to bring automation to the construction site along with the real-time monitoring of the construction process.

“The construction sector, which has traditionally been slow in integrating technology, is now opening up to digital manufacturing, 3D printing, and robotics,” says the IAAC. “The possibility of printing anything that has been previously modeled in our computer lays the groundwork for a true change in the conception architectural production, and in the possibilities of personalizing the final product.”

On Site Robotics uses tiny drones to monitor the construction process

An important part of the On Site Robotics project is its 3D Printing System, developed specifically for the production of large-scale construction parts made from 100% natural materials. As the name suggests, On Site Robotics is capable of 3D printing on construction sites, and this is largely thanks to a servo-controlled winch system that uses cables to print in a wide range of workspaces. The 3D printer’s extruder is controlled by Cogiro, a cable-driven parallel robot with automated CNC control that precisely automates the extruder’s movement and allows six degrees of freedom.

These 3D printed construction parts are not made from plastic filament of course, but from a special clay-based printing material made of natural, biodegradable, recyclable, and locally sourced materials. This 3D printing material was based on work carried out in the IAAC’s Pylos project, an earlier additive manufacturing construction effort that was initiated around 2013 and exhibited between 2014 and 2016. Those working on the project are now attempting to develop a cement-like material capable of building even stronger structures.

But it’s not just high-tech 3D printing technology that makes On Site Robotics such an exciting project for the construction industry. The system developed by the IAAC and Tecnalia also uses miniature drones, programmed to fly autonomously, which can monitor the progress of a build using multispectral cameras. These cameras don’t just capture ordinary photographs or video of the building site either; they can actually determine the wetness or dryness of a newly printed structure thanks to their thermal imaging capabilities.

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“The possible futures that open up thanks to this technology are many; from the printing material and the design of its shapes, to the conception and production of the printing machine itself,” the IAAC adds. “CAD software used by architects and used for 3D printing allows the design of complex geometries, with the possibility of optimizing shapes, material distribution, and building behavior, as well as manufacturing them in a quick and accurate way.”

On Site Robotics can be seen at Construmat 2017, which takes place May 23-26 in Barcelona.

Posted in 3D Printing Technology

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