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Robots help create ultra-thin wooden exhibition hall

By

June 30, 2014

Robots have helped to create a lightweight, ultra-thin wooden exhibition hall (Photo: ICD/...

Robots have helped to create a lightweight, ultra-thin wooden exhibition hall (Photo: ICD/ITKE/IIGS University of Stuttgart)

Image Gallery (9 images)

The Landesgartenschau Exhibition Hall in Stuttgart, Germany, is claimed to be the first building to have its core structure made entirely from interlocking timber sections created by robots. Made up of over 240 individual segments of beech plywood created using a robotic fabrication method, the 17 meter (55 ft) tall, 245 square meter (2,637 sq ft) structure required just 12 cubic meters (424 cubic feet) of timber to construct.

Looking remarkably like a very large peanut, the exhibition hall consists of plywood panels just 50 mm (2 in) thick that, according to the academics from the University of Stuttgart who constructed it, make use of 7,600 individual finger joints interlocked in such a way that they create a shell that needs no additional support.

Though other timber buildings – such as the "WikiHouse" – have benefited from the use of computer-controlled milling machines and robotics, most of these are made using conventional construction methods, such as stud frames and truss roofs. The Landesgartenschau Exhibition Hall is different because it uses structural forms that mimic those found in nature in its construction.

Using the principles of biomimetics – literally forms copying biological structures found in nature – the team from Stuttgart University took inspiration from natural plate shells and used them in the construction of their hall. In this case, the academics have used the idea of a sea urchin's skeleton of calcium carbonate plates joined by microscopic interlocking projections along the plate edges as the template for their plywood plates and human-constructed finger joints.

A worker interlocks the plywood panels (Photo: ICD/ITKE/IIGS University of Stuttgart)

Designed by a team from the university's Institute for Computational Design (ICD), the Institute of Building Structures and Structural Design (ITDK) and the Institute of Engineering Geodesy, the building was also constructed with robotically-created insulation, waterproofing and cladding. And, in keeping with the building's theme of sustainable construction techniques using less material, not even off-cuts from these prefabricated sections were wasted; the parquet flooring inside the building was made from them.

By using a robot able to shape wood across multiple planes, the team asserts that they were able to construct all of the panels for the building in just three weeks, and put the entire structure together in just four more. This was achieved by determining the shape of each panel on a CAD program first, and then programming the robot to cut the panels using the most effective method the machine was capable of performing.

As a result, the building panel fabrication accuracy is claimed to be within just 0.86 mm (0.03 in), which is exceptional for any type of construction, let alone timber. This superfine precision has, according to the team, been a necessary requirement for the finger-joint connection geometries that allowed them to use such thin, lightweight panels.

The Exhibition Hall was built with support from timber manufacturing specialists Müllerblaustein Holzbau GmbH, and is part of the twice-yearly Schwäbisch Gmünd Landesgartenschau open gardens event.

The short video below explains the concept in further detail.

Source: University of Stuttgart

About the Author
Colin Jeffrey Colin discovered technology at an early age, pulling apart clocks, radios, and the family TV. Despite his father's remonstrations that he never put anything back together, Colin went on to become an electronics engineer. Later he decided to get a degree in anthropology, and used that to do all manner of interesting things masquerading as work. Even later he took up sculpting, moved to the coast, and never learned to surf.   All articles by Colin Jeffrey
10 Comments

this is brilliant, could it be adapted to build homes quickly and cheaply, I'd be interested!

livin_the_dream
1st July, 2014 @ 05:33 am PDT

Beautiful design and great efficiencies - though curious about what it's strength will be when it snows more than an inch or two, and how it might withstand even a small tremor.... Seems fragile....

GScott
1st July, 2014 @ 09:34 am PDT

Where is the insulation and cladding? I couldn't see it. And what water proofing was used?

Don Duncan
1st July, 2014 @ 09:45 am PDT

I counted 22-ply - the thickest ply I've ever seen. What did they mean by "ultra thin" I wonder? I notice there's an inner-ply (at 2:16) and an outer ply (at 2:35) - the outer connecting a different way (see 2:45 - there's gaps between) - or in other words - there's nothing "ultra-thin" as all as far as I can tell - thick surfaces, with insulating gaps between, making the total still very thick.

christopher
1st July, 2014 @ 07:25 pm PDT

Certainly quirky shape, but if it works, well done!

Don - It is an exhibition hall, it will probably be torn down after 6 months - or a couple of years - for something else.

As it is not designed for habitation, it will not need insulation and it is its own cladding, that is the whole point of the interlocking panels.

A spray coat of varnish or a good brand of decking oil should take care of waterproofing after assembly, and marine-grade glue in the plywood will stop other worries.

The Skud
1st July, 2014 @ 08:35 pm PDT

Timber Art with State-of-the-art technology...!

Manish Puranik
1st July, 2014 @ 10:12 pm PDT

I wonder if they considered using stress skin panels rather than solid panels.

Slowburn
2nd July, 2014 @ 12:54 am PDT

@Don Duncan - One or two of those pictures in the gallery seems to say something about insulation and cladding.

@Slowburn - what, exactly are stress skin panels anyway?

Snert
2nd July, 2014 @ 02:15 am PDT

This is cool, but I have to say that the claim that this is "the first building to have its core structure made entirely from interlocking timber sections created by robots" gave me a good laugh. It's just so specific-- who could question it? And it made me wonder which parts of this claim have been fulfilled before? The building that almost made the mark but the robots only made its non-core structure? The one whose interlocking core was created partially by robots but out of plastic? Or the one with all the features but alas the structure was not interlocking?

Arf
2nd July, 2014 @ 11:10 am PDT

@ Duncan- The insulation appears to be in the cladding layers outside the basic plywood structure. That layer must also seal the finger joints. @Christopher What makes this "thin" is the overall shell shaped structure. If it had been designed conventionally it would need those temporary frame stringers to be incorporated subtracting form the usable space. The thick plywood also allows sufficient depth for the angled screw fasteners. It may also preclude to some extent the warping through weather over time that plywood buildings exhibit, but I would think that molding the panels to the compound curves of the shell could save thickness and be ultimately stronger as well. It would take a complete revision of the manufacturing process, however, and even more computational power in the design.

Paul Gracey
2nd July, 2014 @ 12:20 pm PDT
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