Loughborough University

Loughborough University (2)

A revolutionary technique being developed by scientists at Loughborough University could free architects from the restraints of current construction methods.

Architects are creating stunning buildings with intricate geometric forms, but many never progress beyond the designer’s screen because their complexity makes them too costly to construct.

A team, led by Dr Richard Buswell and Professor Simon Austin from the University’s School of Civil and Building Engineering, has made dramatic progress with additive manufacturing technologies, where models created on-screen can be formed into three-dimensional components at full scale.

Conventionally, concrete is poured into temporary formwork – an efficient method of moulding if the shapes are straight, simple and the variations minimised.  Introduce curves and complexity, and the expense rapidly increases.

In the Freeform Construction project, a special type of concrete is deposited very precisely under computer control, layer by layer, from a 3D computer-aided-design (CAD) model.  Using this technology, very complex sections of buildings can be created without the high cost penalties associated with traditional methods.

Speaking about the project Dr Richard Buswell said: “Using Freeform every section of a building could be unique if necessary – produced by calling up a new design on-screen and setting the process to work.  Components could be created with ready-made internal voids and ducts for services, and with shapes that made the most of their insulating properties.  Because each piece would be tailor-made, there would be virtually no waste.  The possibilities are endless; it is a very exciting project.”

This pioneering work has been made possible by funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) with significant input from industry.

The research team has now obtained technology-transfer funding from the EPSRC to commercialise the process, collaborating with Foster + Partners, Buro Happold and Hyundai Engineering & Construction.  Their expertise and advice is essential to the team’s understanding of the needs of industry, the potential of their ideas and the creation of an innovation path.

The Freeform work has generated interest worldwide and already led to exhibitions in Barcelona, New York and London.

Colin McKinnon, Innovation Director at Buro Happold, said: “Through our involvement in the project we will help the research team assess the design, manufacturing and commercial potential of this innovative technology.”

Xavier De Kestelier, Associate Partner, at architects Foster + Partners added: “This project gives us tremendous opportunities to see what construction technology will be like in the next five or 10 years.’’

Photo Credit: Agnese Sanvito

For more information, visit: www.lboro.ac.uk

Monday, 09 April 2012 12:13

Restoring China’s Forbidden City

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Loughborough University designers will be using the latest 3D digital technologies to help restore ancient artefacts from the Palace Museum in Beijing.

The museum, also known as the Forbidden City, is currently undertaking major renovation work funded by the Chinese Government.  This is a huge project that involves thousands of individual historic relics.

Using conventional methods, the objects need to be measured, photographed and repaired using manual techniques – an extremely time-consuming and expensive task. However recent research at Loughborough Design School aims to speed up the project, saving time and money.

Since 2009, Loughborough Design School PhD student Fangjin Zhang and colleagues have been investigating the use of 3D printing and other digital technologies within the sculptural and archaeological restoration fields.

3D printing allows physical objects to be built directly from 3D computer-aided-design (CAD) data without the need for tooling and with minimal human intervention.  It is already widely used in manufacturing industries and for medical models.

The application of this method to archaeological artefacts requires the shape of the original objects to be ‘captured’ using laser or optical scanners, and the data to be ‘cleaned-up’ using reverse engineering techniques.  Through this process damaged areas can be digitally restored ready for the 3D printing process.  This has been possible for some time, but now Miss Zhang is developing a formalised approach tailored specifically to the restoration of historic artefacts.  The process has already been applied to a range of objects from the Forbidden City and elsewhere.

Following recent visits to the museum where Miss Zhang has been able to explain and illustrate the many uses and benefits of 3D printing, Loughborough has now been asked use this technique to repair several specific artefacts.  These include the ceiling and enclosure of a pavilion in the Emperor Chanlong Garden.

Speaking about the project Loughborough Design School’s Dr Ian Campbell, who is supervising the research, said: “We are delighted to be working with the museum, using this very modern and innovative technique to restore and safeguard some of China’s most important artefacts.  There is real scope for this technique to be used in museums across the world.”

The Director of the Ancient Architecture Department in the Palace Museum and member of the China Association for Preservation Technology of Cultural Relics, Mr Shiwei Wang added: “This is a good start, and we hope the research on these applications will continue as the prospects are very broad.”

For more information, visit: www.lboro.ac.uk

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