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KUKA robots demonstrate perspectives for robotic production in architecture

Two KUKA robots precisely and efficiently bond and mill wooden panels for a University of Stuttgart project, demonstrating that industrial robots can also bring advantages to the timber construction industry – a sector that until now has made little use of automated processes.

Research project: robotic production in timber construction architecture

Founded in 2008, the Institute for Computational Design and Construction at the University of Stuttgart (ICD) develops computer-aided design and construction processes. One focus is on robotic production in architecture. For the 2019 Bundesgartenschau, the ICD developed an innovative lightweight wooden pavilion that could only be implemented with the help of robots. The planning of the required system was supported by BEC GmbH. The system builder used tried-and-tested KUKA robots: a DKP-400 two-axis positioner and two KUKA KR 500 FORTEC robots. The industrial robots bond and mill the wooden coffers precisely.

Careful and efficient: the robots bond the wooden panels.

The 2019 Bundesgartenschau in Heilbronn

The Bundesgartenschau (BUGA) is held every two years in a different German city. The days of the BUGA being nothing more than a garden show are long gone: it now also showcases pioneering developments in the fields of urban planning and architecture. In addition to trees and flowers, it is also possible to marvel at an innovative timber pavilion at this year’s BUGA in Heilbronn. That it blends into the BUGA site so well may also have something to do with the fact that the inspiration for the timber construction has its origins in a natural phenomenon.

Lovely view: the wooden pavilion at BUGA 2019.
Robotic production in architecture.

Design inspired by nature: robot bonds wooden panels

“The field of biomimetic research is one of our key areas of focus,” explains Professor Achim Menges, Director of the ICD. “Shapes, materials and structures found in nature often exhibit a greater degree of material efficiency and functionality than conventional construction methods.” The pavilion for the BUGA is based on the outer shell of a sea urchin: this consists of plates that grow individually. Each of the 376 elements of the wooden pavilion is absolutely unique. The robots bond them using wooden panels and beams from laminated veneer lumber. The pentagonal, hexagonal or heptagonal coffers are 16 cm thick and have a hollow interior. The pavilion spans 30 meters – without any beams or supports inside. “This form of lightweight construction is unprecedented on a global scale. Without robotic production, the high variance in the parts would have been unthinkable,” says Hans Jakob Wagner, research assistant and doctoral student at the ICD.

Individual production: the wooden pavilion comprises 376 individual components.

Fully automated: KUKA industrial robot mills the wooden coffers precisely

Robotic production is carried out by two KUKA KR 500 FORTEC robots: Robot 1 positions the base plate on the KUKA DKP-400 two-axis positioner. Robot 2 applies adhesive to the wooden panel and robot 1 bonds a load-bearing beam onto it. Robot 2 nails the beam into position with wooden nails. The industrial robots repeat these work steps until all of the beams are bonded and nailed into place. Robot 1 then bonds an additional panel on the adhesive applied to the beam by robot 2. The cover panel is also fixed in place with nails. As soon as the adhesive has cured, the robot positions the coffer on the DKP-400 again. Robot 2 precisely mills the corner contours and finger joints. Robot 1 then places the finished coffer in the magazine.

The robot bonds wooden panels and mills and nails the hollow beams.
The wooden pavilion at BUGA 2019 in Heilbronn.

Precision and efficiency – advantages of robotic production in architecture

“The robot bonds the wooden panels precisely and efficiently. This is important because the adhesive only remains fluid for a limited time,” explains Matthias Buck, Managing Director of BEC GmbH. Furthermore, specific conditions such as the application quantity and uniformity have to be met. Moreover, considering the weight of the individual elements – a coffer weighs up to 200 kg – robots reduce the workload. Another advantage: during milling, the dimensional tolerance of the robotic production process is less than 0.3 mm. Matthias Buck also praises the adaptability of the KUKA robots: “We even have the option of making changes to the construction plan of certain elements during the production process.” This offers the construction industry and timber construction industry innovative opportunities: robot systems can help to deal with the growing demands for larger quantities and affordable solutions.

The production of the components is complex and costly. Without the robotic solution, it would not have been possible to realize the project.

Hans Jakob Wagner, research assistant and doctoral student at the ICD

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