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NCCR Digital Fabrication (DFAB)


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The National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) Digital Fabrication is an ambitious research initiative founded by the Swiss National Science Foundation, based at ETH Zurich. By fostering interdisciplinary research in the fields of architecture, engineering, robotics, materials and computer science, the seamless combination of digital planning with the physical fabrication process shall be achieved, opening up entirely new perspectives for the future culture of building and architecture.



After the successful completion of the production of the material-optimised concrete façade mullions, Fabio Scotto and Ena Lloret-Frischti of the Gramazio Kohler Research Group at ETH Zurich and the Chair for Physical Chemistry of Building Materials, ETH Zurich take a look back at the experiments and prototypes which were necessary in the development of a final robotic fabrication process.

At Spatial Timber Assemblies, man and machine work together in both the planning and the manufacturing process. (Photograph: NFS Digital Fabrication / Roman Keller)

NCCR Researchers are using a new method for digital timber construction in a real project for the first time. The load-bearing timber modules, which are prefabricated by robots, will be assembled on the top two floors at the DFAB HOUSE construction site.

At the Empa and Eawag NEST building in Dübendorf, eight ETH Zurich professors as part of the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) Digital Fabrication are collaborating with business partners to build the three-storey DFAB HOUSE. It is the first building in the world to be designed, planned and built using predominantly digital processes.

Philip Yuan, Chinese architect and professor at Tongji University, along with three researchers from his group, visited ETH Zurich and the NCCR Digital Fabrication. In his lecture, Yuan presented his approach to digital fabrication and its relationship to form, space, structure and materiality through a compilation of recent projects by his office, Archi-Union and works by his research group at Tongji University.

Benjamin Dillenburger, Assistant Professor for Digital Building Technologies, ETH Zurich, Switzerland speaking at the session “Ask About: 3D Printing for Architecture2 at the Annual Meeting 2017 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, January 19, 2017. Photo copyright: World Economic Forum / Jakob Polacsek

During the 2017 World Economic Forum, ETH Zurich showcased its latest innovations in Game Technology and robotics. The National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) Digital Fabrication was represented by Prof. Benjamin Dillenburger who explained why digital fabrication can be a game changer for the building industry.

mesh-mould-5

During the 11th Swiss Innovation Forum in Basel, the project team behind the novel building technology Mesh Mould received the Swiss Technology Award 2016.

“Mesh Mould”, developed by researchers at ETH Zurich, allows for building load-bearing concrete elements of any shape without formwork. The building technology has the potential to revolutionise construction of steel-reinforced concrete structures through the combination of the two commonly separated functions of formwork and reinforcement in a robotic fabrication process. In short, Mesh Mould enables architects and engineers to build complex concrete structures without any additional costs. In addition, it allows for the saving of material and therefore contributes to a more sustainable construction.

Through the cooperation of multiple robots geometrically complex three-dimensional structures become buildable, enabling the design and fabrication of differentiable and material-efficient structures.

In-situ fabcicator2This past September, the NCCR Digital Fabrication welcomed Jim Drury from Reuters TV. In this 2 minute video on the autonomous construction robot, the “In situ Fabricator” (IF). Drury captures relevant questions regarding this “game-changer in construction”.

In-situ fabcicator2
In-situ fabricator. Source: NCCR Digital Fabrication

Digital fabrication enables the seamless combination of digital design with physical construction processes. To fully exploit this emerging technology within architecture, robotic fabrication must be expanded in prefabrication, but also fully implemented directly on construction sites. Achieving in-situ fabrication using mobile construction robotics is the goal of several research projects within the National Centre for Competence in Research (NCCR) Digital Fabrication.

Professor Robert J. Flatt. Source: DFAB
Professor Robert J. Flatt. Source: DFAB

Being able to control the moment when concrete turns from liquid to solid is crucial for digitally fabricated concrete structures. The timing of this process can be controlled by tuning the chemistry and adding small amounts of specific substances at just the right time. Robert J. Flatt, Professor of Building Materials at ETH Zurich, discusses this process and the innovations in concrete chemistry and digital fabrication he and his team are working on to reduce the environmental footprint of the most used building material in the world.

In September a new Master of Advanced Studies (MAS) ETH in Architecture and Digital Fabrication will be offered by the Gramazio Kohler Research chair at ETH Zurich. This one-year, full-time program focuses on digital design and full-scale fabrication using state-of-the-art robotic fabrication facilities at ETH.