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Q&A: Industrial Robots in AEC

July 2023 – by Sarah Picco


We had the privilege of interviewing Adonis Lau about his experience and insights on a recent project he led, along with his team members of the CSALT Research Lab (Carleton Sensory Architecture and Liminal Technologies).


Student Profile

Adonis joined PICCO as a Technologist Intern in 2021, bringing a fresh perspective and an eagerness to learn. After graduating with his Bachelor of Architectural Studies from Carleton University, he will be returning to pursue his Master's Degree this fall. During the fourth year of his undergraduate degree, Adonis had the opportunity to work at the CSALT. Their research focuses on exploring the roles of digital technologies for fabrication in an architectural setting. Adonis led experiments with hybrid design methods, integrating the digital possibilities of emergent technologies into physical construction. Adonis is now beginning to explore the potential of industrial robots in the AEC industries and their integration into architectural education and professional workflows.


Q: Tell us a bit about the project?

“A traditional double wythe brick wall uses two layers of brick separated by a space to create a structural wall. The space between the two layers would create a thermal barrier and was often filled with rubble and metal ties that held the two layers together. The thick brick-and-mortar assembly was built with material to carry a load at any point on its structure, meaning extra material is used that is not load-bearing. This structure illustrates a dynamic tension between two structural systems: old and new. The space between the brick walls is used to insert a structurally optimized form to support three different weights within the wall. The tree-like resulting form is derived using software that places structure only where it is needed using parameters of weight location, the dimensional bounding constraints, and the material properties of the clay. The structurally optimized form uses material only where it is needed to carry the weight, like a tree, leaving the brick outer walls to be a playful cast of hollow brick ghosts. The printing strategy further demonstrates our concept of two opposed structural systems by creating a visual difference in the 3D printing lines with the components of each structural system being printed in perpendicular orientations to each other.”


Caption: Robotic Clay: New Methods in Architectural Ceramics" displayed in the Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery in Waterloo, Ontario.


Q: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced with this project? “We received the call for proposals from the Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery in October 2022 with a deadline to deliver a final product to the gallery in April 2023. Having no prior experience or knowledge in ceramic 3D printing before this, one of the biggest challenges we faced was quickly learning how to use the necessary tools to complete this project on time and understanding the material properties of clay as a 3D printing medium, while also balancing a full-time student course load. The first three months of this project were dedicated to learning the necessary skills through experiments and trial and error. By conducting tests and learning from our many mistakes, we were able to gain a deeper understanding of the potential of this project and its limitations. Another challenge we faced was learning how to account for the real-life discrepancies of 3D printed clay and how to address them in the final assembly of the project, such as the warpage of a print during the drying and kiln-firing process."


Q: What was key to the success of the project?

“Having a strong team with a variety of specialized skill sets helped with the success of this project. Each team member held specific roles which pushed the project forward through its different stages. As a result, a great learning environment was also created where members with strong digital skills could learn new skills from the team members with mechanical knowledge and who had an understanding of materiality, and vice versa. This collaboration within the team was essential to the success of the project.”

“Having a strong team with a variety of specialized skill sets helped with the success of this project."

Q: How do you feel your innovation could influence the AEC industry in the future?

“This project was developed as a proof of concept for the larger idea of structural optimization in architecture while also acting as a demonstration of the potential of emergent technologies in the AEC industries. The use of clay in this project is meant to be an analogue for the potential of 3D printing at a larger scale with more typical construction materials, such as concrete. With structurally optimized forms, less material can be used in the construction of a building while maintaining the strength of the structure. Many methods and aspects of the construction and architectural industries that were developed decades ago are still being utilized in 2023. I think this project should encourage people in the industry to explore and experiment with new methods using the vast range of emergent tools and technologies that are currently available.”


The project was completed by members of the CSALT (Carleton Sensory Architecture and Liminal Technologies) Lab at Carleton University and was led by fourth-year undergraduate students Adonis Lau, Meaghan Dickson, and Catalin Bacalu.


 

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