Industry News News

The Future of Immersive Starts Here

In a 2016 report by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) the projected growth of Virtual Reality in the manufacturing industry was valued at 162 billion dollars by 2020. In comparison, the report suggests that 3D Printing will grow by 35 billion dollars, and Artificial Intelligence by 5 billion dollars. When I read this, I was surprised that VR is predicted to have such a significant impact on the future of manufacturing. So, it’s a good thing that UAP’s Luke Harris is keeping up to date with the latest advancements in VR technology.

The Future of Immersive Starts Here

Luke recently attended the VRS conference, The Future of Immersive Starts Here, in San Francisco. I sat down with Luke to hear about what he discovered at this conference. Luke told me that attending the conference was a very worthwhile exercise because “It was good to get perspective on the industry and I felt excited about where the technology might take us in the future.”
Conference attendees came from diverse backgrounds and industries including; people who were developing tech start-ups, education and training (especially), people from major software companies, tech influencers, the entertainment industry, and architects.
Educational applications of Virtual and Augmented Reality has become a significant growth area. Luke noted that “The thing that surprised me was the focus on investment in using VR for education and training, from surgeons to crane drivers.”

Cross Reality

The conference brought forward a number of new terms around this technology for discussion as well. Broadly, the focus of the conference was Cross Reality (XR), which Luke defined as “pretty much an umbrella term for augmented reality, virtual reality, mixed reality, and cinematic reality.” Which brought up another new term, Mixed Reality (MR), and Luke defined that as’ a mix of virtual and augmented reality.” Another new term was Extended Reality, and with this term, Luke found that “Some of the speakers are trying to popularise extended reality, which is looking into the future where we will move beyond augmented and virtual reality.”

Advances in Technology

There were a few advances that Luke thought would be really promising to advanced manufacturing and UAP’s fabrication processes. One was the use of ‘light fields’ which facilitated headset free holograms. You can read more about this technology on the Light Field Lab website
However, Luke found that the most significant advances were those that enhanced cross-disciplinary and locational collaboration.  “The most impressive technologies were MR facilitated collaborative problem solving, where one person might be wearing a headset and working on a manufacturing floor and be guided by someone in another city or country on what to do. This involves using AR and VR for conferencing, and working together.”
Other technologies that Luke suggested would be big catalysts for change included cloud processing. “One of the exciting developments for Mixed Reality that was presented at the conference was cloud processing, where lightweight, inexpensive devices can have their processing capabilities boosted by processing performed in the cloud.” Luke also felt that streamlining VR processes with a centralized platform and advances with compatible hardware would really drive VR and AR forward.

Looking Forward

Luke left the conference feeling optimistic about the role of AR and VR will play in advancing manufacturing. “I definitely got excited about the future of AR. Over the next five years, it’s going to explode. The technology is almost moving faster than the hardware. I don’t know whether it’s going to be with headsets or mobile phones.”
Overall, Luke said the conference gave him a much-needed confidence about boost about how prepared UAP are when it comes to implementing AR and VR into their processes. “[the conference] gave me a perspective of what’s happening in the industry, which was gratifying, because the work I’ve been doing the last year, I felt like I was always playing catch up to the technology. But just looking at what people are doing, even with copious amounts of money, I felt like we’re in a good position. We know the limitations of the hardware and we’re able to push it in the right direction for our processes.”

_ Knowledge Sharing News

Annual Design Research Conference

Dr Glenda Caldwell recently presented a paper at the University of Sydney’s Annual Design Research Conference. The paper was co written by Dr Muge Belek Fialho Teixeira, Dr Jared Donovan, Dr Glenda Caldwell and Kirsty Volz. Below is an excerpt from the paper that was presented.

Transgressions between making, craft, and technology for Architects and Artists

Art fabricators, sometimes called artist technicians, have had an increasingly substantial role in the production of artworks, pavilions, and bespoke street furniture. The uptake of commissioning art fabricators is due to a few, identifiable factors. One is a remarkably prosperous art market, especially in the last decade. The other is the post-skill era,” which has meant the employment of a fabricator has become the acceptable norm and commonplace in the production of art.Additionally, the changing scale of public art due to neo-liberal planning policies that have shifted the commissioning of public art to the private sector; where it appears, bigger is better.
The scale of these projects is only made possible by fabricators such as UAP. As such, their impact on the art, design and architecture world has been to fabricate what was previously unachievable. This expansion of scope in public art sculptures is changing the nature of creative production, from one solely possessed by single artists. It is, therefore, a reflexive position between artist and fabricator, where big art cannot exist without the other; the scale of contemporary public art sculptures is reliant on the supported, collaborated existence of both.
The current discussion about the role of art fabricators is concerned with whether artists should credit them, but this all depends on how you define art. Is it the idea or the physical outcome? This topic is not the basis for this paper. Instead, it focuses on how the craft, making, and fabrication processes are a form of research and can contribute to research on innovations in construction and fabrication approaches. Other than Patsy Craig’s documentation of Mike Smith’s art fabrication studio in London, published in the book Making Art Work (2003), little has been written about these studios that produce large scale public art, building facades, and pavilions. Craig describes Smith’s making as a process of ‘endeavour and enquiry.’ This paper aims to further Craig’s research through the work of UAP Company. Additionally, a study of these processes outlines how these fabricators are helping achieve bigger, more complex sculptures and structures, and how these innovations in fabrication might influence the construction of the built environment, more broadly.
UAP provides a case study from which to investigate the physical, social, cultural and economic impacts of innovations in fabrication processes. Their experimentations in fabricating processes are achieved in an environment where meeting deadlines, achieving commercial imperatives are also integral to their work. In this paper, we examine UAP’s work in the context of broader social, cultural and economic influences. This survey highlights that advances in architectural fabrication do not occur in isolation, but are informed by government investment, significant cultural events, and cultural policy.
We found in this research that UAP often borrows know-how, technologies and tools from different disciplines and manufacturing processes as well as informing new fabrication processes. Having all these motivations in hand, this paper focuses on UAP and its milestone projects. Example projects from UAP are used to describe the development of their approach to fabrication, in its current state and their position on future processes. The discussion of UAP’s work in this paper demonstrates the role of design-led manufacturing and that the creative industries are capable of driving change in advanced manufacturing and digital fabrication.

These projects represent specific milestones for UAP, beginning with their partnership with Lena Yarinkura on the Seven Dogs Project in Brisbane (2003 and 2010), then the King Abdullah University of Technology’s (KAUST) Art Project in Saudi Arabia (2009), and lastly the Gehry staircase at the University of Technology Sydney (2015). Investigation of these projects reveals transgressions between making, craft and technology as key instigators of UAP’s evolution and innovation. Moving from the mass produced to a mass customised, from a local to a global world, companies like UAP must continually find ways to cope with change and look toward the future to be competitive.

Lena Yarinkura. Seven Dogs Project

Lena Yarinkura is a is a Kune-Rembarrnga woman. She is an artist working from the Maningrida Community in Arnhem Land in Northern Australia. Yarinkura initially collaborated with UAP, through an introduction from the Waanyi artist, Judy Watson in 1999. UAP presented metal-casting processes as part of a workshop held at the Maningrida Arts and Culture Centre. From this workshop, a long term relationship between Lena Yarinkura and UAP commenced. In a reciprocal exchange between artist and fabricator, Yarinkura worked with cast metal for the first time, and UAP developed new casting methods by working with the forms and surfaces created by Yarinkura’s woven sculptures. Initially, bronze cast sculptures such as the Camp Dog 2 were produced in 2003 (Figure 2). UAP’s partnership with Yarinkura continued, resulting in a major urban art project scheme, Seven Dogs, at Brisbane  Airport’s Skygate, in 2010.
The design process of the metal cast objects started with hand-woven designs Yarinkura created. These were then sculpted in a material that can be sand moulded, such as polystyrene foam. The sand moulds were used to form the metal sculptures by pouring hot liquid metals such as bronze or aluminium into them. The metal casts were then taken out of the moulds once they cooled down. This exchange of craft process and metal casting is an example of the research, by knowledge exchange, which informs and can be an indirect outcome from the fabrication of public art.  

KAUST Art Project

The second project to be discussed is the KAUST Art Project, located in Saudi Arabia. This project was a commission won through UAP’s Los Angeles Studio in 2006. Won via an international tender, HOK was chosen in collaboration with UAP to produce artwork commissions that celebrate KAUST as a global university. The primary focus of the project was to interpret and present interdisciplinary art and design that stimulates creativity and interaction. Therefore, UAP invited artists from all over the world to take part in this art project, such as Carsten Höller, Oliver van den Berg, Sopheap Pich, Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, Subodh Kerkar, Donna Marcus, Dalziel & Scullion, Dennis Nona, Richard Deacon, Erwin Redl, Fiona Foley, Simeon Nelson, Nja Madhaoui, David Trubridge, and Jason Bruge. Each artist worked with an interdisciplinary team to provide a site-specific artwork for various locations in the KAUST site.
The scope of this project and the constrained construction timeline of only 30 months required UAP to develop innovative, efficient fabrication processes to meet their deadline. They also developed new ways of managing work in the Brisbane workshop and on-site; as KAUST had several artworks to be constructed at the same time. The explorations during the KAUST project resulted in experimentations with new materials such as white brass, and the use of new technologies both in the workshop and the design documentation departments of UAP. This required them to engage with new software to help streamline documentation processes, and given the manufacturing complexities of some of the produced artwork, UAP was awarded the Autodesk Inventor prize in July 2009 for their effort in documenting some of the artworks.
One of the major artworks of the project was the Al-Fanar/ Beacon designed by Daniel Tobin. It is a sixty metre high structure that is a contemporary interpretation of a light house (Figure 4). It has become the symbol of KAUST, defining the entry point to the harbour where the university is situated. Inspired by the marine life of the Red Sea, Al Fanar is constructed from Ancient Arabic Maritime traditions, in-region artworks and architectural detailing. Its highly complex structure is built from pre-cast concrete blocks that are in amorphous hexagonal sections. The interior space provides a gathering space with a play of light and shadows. It is also an example of a large scale sculptural and architectural work designed and fabricated by UAP.

Gehry Staircase. University of Technology Sydney

The third project discussed is the Gehry Staircase. Designed by Frank Gehry, the Dr Chau Chak Wing Building at UTS Sydney has a sculptural central staircase that works as a bridge bringing students together. UAP was commissioned to fabricate these stairs (Figure 5). Working with Gehry Partners, UAP explored fabrication methods for the sculptural staircase that required complex research and investigation into form, material, and structure to determine how best to construct this ambitious vision. The sculptural piece is built from hand beaten stainless steel metal plates that are welded together and then polished to achieve the smooth mirrored effect.
As with many of Gehry’s designs, the staircase was designed manually through an iterative process of cyclical testing. It was then digitally modelled for precision, representation, and manufacturing. However, due to the limitations of manufacturing processes especially in steel, it was difficult to achieve the complex forms of the staircase design by automatic manufacturing systems. The complex form of the staircase challenged UAP’s existing capabilities. The manufacturing of the staircase involved dividing it into modular pieces which were built one by one by metal casting artisans, welders and polishers. The modular pieces were then assembled in the factory using a mock-up model; then they were placed on site. Transgressing a digitally modelled staircase by manually making it was a painstaking process, leading UAP to explore advanced manufacturing possibilities for the manufacture of future projects.
As part of this strategy, and in response to an increasing demand of complex architectural designs, UAP has acquired an industrial robotic arm.  To further develop its capabilities and examine the affordances of robotic vision systems, UAP is currently undertaking a research project funded by the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (IMCRC), in collaboration with QUT and RMIT. The project is looking into research-led innovation to enable mass-customisation manufacturing of products, processes, and services for art and architectural fabrication in Australia.

Innovation in the Creative Industries

As the creative industries continue to flourish, influenced by neo-liberal planning and policies, the role of the art fabricator continues to grow in both scope and significance. While neo-liberal approaches to planning policy transferred investment in public art from the public to the private sector, its intention was as Michael Keniger wrote, to emphasise that building is ‘a cultural act as much as it is a physical one.’ Stuart Cunningham describes this economic shift where ‘creative production and cultural consumption are an integral part of the new economy.’ The role of the art fabricator is too often diminished by an emphasis on a sole author, perpetuated by a post-conceptual art world, that has yet to let go of 20th century practices in the creation of art. This paper has aimed to highlight the important contribution art fabrication has to make as a process that is informed by, and informs, research and innovation.
Through the analysis of UAP’s timeline, this paper presents two important findings. Firstly, that over time public art has progressed from an autonomous form applied to public architectural spaces, to architectural objects or sculptures that are seamlessly integrated into a project. This is exemplified through works such as Yarinkura Seven Dogs for Skygate (2010), Brisbane and Frank Gehry’s stairs (2015) in the UTS Dr Chau Chak Wing Building. Secondly, the complexity and scale of art works have compelled UAP to embrace innovations in fabrication technologies through works such as KAUST (King Abdullah University of Science and Technology).
UAP’s engagement with collaborative processes has come about from a reciprocal engagement between artist and maker. Artists’ and architects’ vision are pushing UAP to engage in experimental and cutting edge processes and technologies, while UAP has shared their processes and capabilities to push artists’ and architects’ material use and knowledge. This exchange of knowledge between visionary and maker demonstrates a clear transgression between craft, making, and technology. By documenting art fabrication processes, and analysing them further, there is the potential that the research and innovation by making, could be shared more broadly with construction and manufacturing industries involved with the built environment.



What is Advanced Manufacturing?

This article aims to provide an overview of what advanced manufacturing is, and how it will change Australian manufacturing businesses.
The video below from the CSIRO Roadmap for Advanced Manufacturing, provides a good overview of how these technologies will affect manufacturing processes.

Increasing Levels of Customisation

Advanced manufacturing technologies allow for ‘mass-customisation.’ This is where materials and products can be individually customised at a high volume and at a relatively low cost. Doing away with the standard sizes of mass-produced elements. This changes the way consumers interact with products and creates new and exciting opportunities for businesses.

Advances in Digital Networks and Analytics

It’s not just the physical capacity of these technologies, its also about the capacity for technologies to make decisions. Which, as the video says, ‘Blurs the lines between manufacturing and service provision.’ This means that smart manufacturing technologies are able to do more than just repetitive tasks, they can interpret and analyse data to make complex decisions. As part of the Design Robotics project we are working toward making robotic arms ‘see.’ Vision Robotics involves providing the robot with ways to see via cameras and scanners, and with this scan data, robots can make decisions about work processes. There are also lots of different ways that robots can access data for analysis to make working decisions.

The Need for More Sustainable Operations

Probably one of the greatest contributions Advanced Manufacturing Technologies (AMT) make is the facilitation of more sustainable practices. Less waste, more efficient practices and better material usage through increased accuracy are all ways AMT contribute to more sustainable operations.
There is so much that Advanced Manufacturing has to offer. The purpose of this article was to introduce the broader benefits and aims of these technologies in the Australian Manufacturing sector.

Knowledge Sharing Opinion

Selecting Suitable projects for Advanced Manufacturing Technologies

In an exciting development, UAP has invested in Advanced Manufacturing Technologies, but how do they decide when to use these technologies? We sat down with UAP’s General Manager Amanda Harris and asked her, ‘How do you decide which projects are best suited for using Advanced Manufacturing Technologies?’

UAP ready for Industry 4.0
One of the great things about the way UAP works is their capacity to accommodate such a variety of different ways to work and different tools to work with, as Amanda tells us, ‘We have all the different tools of the trade here and a wide, wide array of projects to employ them upon. In addition, we have a team of talented people with decades of experience. Our  expertise ranges from people who are working in digital spaces to specialists working with more traditional tools.’
In our research, we have found that Advanced Manufacturing Technologies (AMT) are most easily taken up by large firms (defined by having 500+ employees), while small to medium enterprises experience more difficulty in transitioning to new technologies. However, the unique and agile way that UAP conducts business provides them with an advantageous position to adopt new ways of working. As Amanda explained to us, ‘Because we have a broad skillset and specialist team members, who’ve been working here for 10 years, 20 years, they are experts within their field, so that makes it easier for us to key in the next step. We have the advantage of being able to draw on knowledge of existing processes and techniques, and then understand where there might be gaps in them.’
It is also the case that UAP has strived to continually adapt to new ways of working, making a move to AMT a gradual one, rather than a huge leap. Amanda feels that UAP are in a good position to begin working with AMT, ‘Every project we have is unique, and our team is used to solving problems or approaching a process that we haven’t undertaken before. So while adapting to new technologies can be a steep learning curve and potentially intimidating, we’re practised at the unfamiliar. .’
Another important success indicator for the implementation of new technologies in existing firms was support from upper-level management. Amanda told us that at UAP, ‘we want to be the innovators.’
How are projects selected for Advanced Manufacturing Technology?
In explaining how she selected projects that were suitable for AMT, Amanda explained that ‘for me; it’s about making small progressive steps.’
Amanda emphasised that using technology was about developing their existing, internal processes. ‘I don’t mind what the technology is or what kind of innovation we’re looking at… if we can see there is a way that we can develop our Intellectual Property, and in doing so widen our delivery capabilities (or make existing tasks easier!), then that’s something we want to turn into an advantage. Ultimately, making commercial projects more successful is what drives us to attack anything new.’ She also highlighted that the application was more important than the technology by itself, reflecting on previous work completed by the firm that, ‘often here, if we try to innovate for innovation’s sake, we don’t see a lot of traction, and that’s because the commercial side of the business always wins. You have a pipe dream and a deadline. I think everyone can predict the winner when those two things are matched up. So what we’re doing now, is trying to chip away at the pipedream by using every deadline to our advantage. Sure, we might not develop and test an entirely new process start to finish on a project. But we achieve the first step of that new process on project one, the second step on project two and so on. And of course there are some failures in there, so we also work with a Plan B in mind, that is more traditional, just in case.. because, well the deadline is still looming.’
For that reason, Amanda always selects projects where using these technologies align with the commercial requirements; she told us, ‘to break that cycle is to find a commercial project that will benefit from that kind of innovation and then key that innovation in. It can’t just be a superficial inclusion that doesn’t help the process.’ The other factor that determines if a project is suited to the use of AMT is the availability of time within the programme to accommodate training and any setbacks with the technology, as Amanda explains, ‘The next checkpoint is the scenario where you have a little bit of programme or time within those projects, those are ideal. This isn’t always the case though, at the moment we’re using Augmented Reality to set out fabrication parts for a project that has an incredibly short timeline. In this case, we’re ahead of where we would be traditionally, even though we’re adapting to newer technology – the time savings are that great. This is only possible with the talent and engagement of our team, and their ability to collaborate. In this case, we have Steve Walsh, our Head of Fabrication, working with Luke Harris, our most tenured digital designer. Together they are bypassing the need parts of the traditional workshop drawing set, and making the assembly and fabrication occur at pace, to meet a very tight deadline.’
Baby Steps
As with most of the research on the successful integration of AMT in firms, there needs to be a steady progression of technology used by staff, gradually leading up to the employment of AMT. Amanda reiterated the practical importance of this in the day to day operations and meeting client expectations. She told us that, ‘the way that we try to make these developments is to incorporate those steps so that we’re not trying to solve any problems that we can’t see any other way to resolve.  The ideal scenario is not to take a commercial project and be in a position where the only way we can deliver it is with new technology. Instead, the intent is to find a commercial project, identify a way that I think we can improve a step within it, a small step, and then deliver within our existing delivery model.’
The delivery of good quality projects is always the priority
The most important consideration is that the project will be delivered – on time and fit for purpose. The technology has to be employed in such a way that it won’t hinder project deliverables, as Amanda tells us, ‘if a piece of equipment or tech failed, we just can’t be in a position to not deliver for the Client. So there’s a lot of steps in qualifying the tech.’ As such, it is always more about the process of delivering the project than it is about the technology itself.

Knowledge Sharing

Design Robotics 'Mudpit' Presentation with QUT's Design Lab

Design Robotics recently presented their research at an informal gathering, called a Mudpit, to QUT’s Design Lab Research group.
The mission of the Design Lab Research group at QUT is to ‘Change by Design.’ That is, Design research at QUT aims to demonstrate how design can be applied to achieve solutions to broader social, cultural, economic, and environmental problems.
The Design Lab website explains that ‘Design is no longer just the pursuit of creating objects or artefacts. It is a method and a research approach able to drive Australia’s National Innovation agenda. Harnessing this potential, the QUT Design Lab was founded in 2016 to employ bold, fresh, and rigorous design-led research to tackle major societal challenges facing society, industry, community, and the environment. Acting as a hub and home for a diverse team of academics, research students, and industry professionals, the QUT Design Lab supports transdisciplinary collaborations that result in tangible impact and engagement, and which transfer knowledge and technology into beneficial applications for industry and society.’

At the presentation Al Burden, the Design Robotics PhD Candidate, gave a short demonstration with the UR10s at QUT.
The Mudpit is an informal way of sharing research between colleagues to share knowledge and develop opportunities for collaboration.

Knowledge Sharing News

Design Workshop with QUT's UR10 Robotic Arms

 The Design Robotics Team hosted a group of students from the University of Queensland’s School of Architecture to work with one of our UR10 Robotic Arms.
The students worked together to design a wall panel using Morpholo Tiles. Designed by Thieri Foulc in 1985, Morpholo tiles are a combination of square tiles which can be arranged in different ways, as a game or a piece of art. In total, there are 240 tiles, containing black and white shapes; the only rules to the game are to match the black edges with black, and white edges against white, which creates numerous possible configurations.
As a method for organising these tiles, a code can be generated using a mathematical formula.
You can see what the Morpholo Tiles looked like below.

Working with a pattern created by the Morpholo Tiles, Students created a three-dimensional version, as a wall panel. This was done by cutting the pattern lines out of foam blocks; where the solid was the white and void cut out, the black. They used the UR10 Robotic arm, with a hot wire cutter attachment, to cut the desired pattern out of each block of foam. These blocks were then assembled into a wall panel, like bricks to create a pattern.
It was a great opportunity to exchange and share out knowledge and practical skills with our colleagues. The outcome of the workshop was successful, and we hope to build on this work to create wall panels, with mass customised components and different materials, for future built environment applications.  

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Award Winning Design Robotics Team!

We are very proud to announce that the Design Robotics team have been recognised in this year’s QUT Vice Chancellor’s Awards for Excellence. These awards ‘are prestigious university awards conferred to individuals or teams in recognition of sustained exceptional performance leading to outstanding achievement in work and activities that align with the university’s vision, strategic goals and Real World Capabilities over a period of 3 years.’ The award recognised the outstanding work of the team members who established the Design Robotics project, Distinguished Professor Peter Corke, Associate Professor Cori Stewart, Dr Glenda Caldwell, Dr Jared Donovan, Professor Greg Hearn, and Professor Jonathan Roberts. 

The citation that accompanied the award stated that:
“In 2017, the Design Robotics Research Team secured a 5-year $3M (cash) $8M (valued) IMCRC project; “Design Robotics for Mass Customisation Manufacturing” with industry partner UAP (Urban Art Projects) and RMIT. The Design Robotics project is an outstanding example of collaborative multi-University transdisciplinary research and industry partner engagement. The team has seized an opportunity to apply design and robotic vision to advanced manufacturing to reduce the integration time between design and custom manufacturing processes. The impact of the project will enable small to medium sized enterprises a method to engage with technology for competitive advantage, increasing value differentiation through specialised manufacture of high-value products. The project offers a platform for sharing knowledge and inspiration, and facilitates network building among manufacturers, artists, designers, architects and engineers. The project offers QUT a significant opportunity to take a leading global position in Design Robotics.  This team is truly cross-Faculty and is working with a globally recognised company to innovate in Design using robots. This is an exceptional highly collaborative team with great outcomes for the University and for Australia.”
We’re so pleased to see that Jared, Glenda, Jonathan, Cori, Peter, and Greg’s excellent work has been acknowledged and rewarded. Congratulations


Science makes art. But could art save the Australian manufacturing industry?

The “hand-made” nature of artistic works has been highly valued by humans over thousands of years. But digital capability is changing art – not just how art is designed; also how it is made.
Now we’re at the point where the art and design industry in Australia is demanding “mass customisation” of artworks. Some companies have started to address this using the latest generation of robotics technologies – but making the technology work in the right way needs input from creative expertise.
Done right, this mashup of creativity with technology could strengthen manufacturing capability in Australia.

Gap between design and production

There is a tremendous gap between the ease of digital design and manufacture of bespoke objects.
When computer assisted design rapidly evolved in the late 1990s, it meant that previously impossible to conceive ideas could find a form on the computer screen.
But the act of actually creating computer-designed works can be more difficult – and costly. Architect firm Gehry Partners used digital design software to design a “crumpled mirrored” staircase for the University of Technology Sydney. But when creative company UAP manufactured that staircase (shown in the photo above, and animation below), they had to employ a thousand year old technique of meticulously hand beating every surface until it matched the shape of the computer model.

The ‘crumpled mirrored staircase’.

Reproducing or re-sizing works of art can also present manufacturing challenges. Originally, artisans would carefully measure the original object and then hand craft the copies, sometimes adjusting the scale. Now, modern scanning technology can create highly accurate computer models of such objects – but the same problem of how to manufacture the new objects presents itself.
The technology to take a digital design into a mechanical fabrication process exists, but it is normally too costly for one-off pieces and is reserved for mass production.
This is where robots come into play.

Robots that see

For a robot to make something where the starting form and desired final shape are not fixed – that’s complex.
Traditionally, robots have been used for manufacturing tasks where the shape of the object being worked on is very well understood. For example, robots can be used to remove the excess metal (a process known as “fettling”) after metal casting of car engine blocks. A robot can be programmed to do this as the desired final shape of the engine block is known: without visual information, the robot can move the engine block over a grinder to remove any excess metal.

Robotic fettling of a known object.

But many of the objects created by artists do not have a detailed computer model for the robot to work from. Also, works of art are typically not uniform or predictable in shape. So any robot working on a piece of art will first need to see it from all angles, and accurately discover its shape.
The technology to see, or scan objects exists now. In fact you may have it on the smart phone you own right now.

3D cameras that scan objects in detail are already on the latest smart phones.

But the next challenge is determining how to work on the object: could a robot transform an object it sees into one that is desired (a piece of art)? We’re not too far off this goal.

Robots might create jobs

Many people fear job losses associated with introducing robots into production facilities. However the number of jobs can actually increase when robots are used in mass customisation.
In our own discussions with UAP – the company that made the Gehry Partners staircase – they tell us that since adopting robotic technology, staff numbers have grown at a rate of six new appointments for every piece of new robotic machinery purchased. Existing staff are working in new technologies; for example, pattern-makers are using their expert sculpting skills in virtual reality and sending these digital works direct to robotic manufacture.
The products UAP are making with robots include artworks like Poll (by Emily Floyd), and architectural facades that will soon be installed on busy city streets in Australia.
This sort of mass customisation manufacturing may also be suited to products such as customised stents for arteries, or even production and preparation of better looking fruit and vegetables for niche food markets like airlines. The workforce may grow as a result.

Let’s invest in creative skills

Design is a fundamental creative manufacturing capability.
Currently in Australia, government manufacturing policies and investment programs have a firm focus on supporting science and technology companies such as aerospace companies printing jet engines, or biomedical science entities growing parts of the human anatomy. And while the strategic importance of robotics to our manufacturing future is well established and funded, this is not the case for design.
Creative capabilities in art and design firms should be more strategically included in this investment.

Recent data shows digital creative services are growing at nearly three times the rate of the overall workforce and attracting 30% above the average Australian wage.
The ConversationRight now, Australian governments should be targeting the innovation capability of the creative industries, and expanding the value art and design already add to Australia’s manufacturing industry.
Cori Stewart, Director, Business Development and Associate Professor Creative Industries, Queensland University of Technology and Jonathan Roberts, Professor in Robotics, Queensland University of Technology
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Smartgeometry Workshop and Conference

Research Fellow Dr Muge Belek Fialho Teixeira was selected to participate in a workshop at the Smartgeometry workshop hosted by the University of Toronto earlier this year. In this post, Muge reflects on the workshop and conference.

Smartgeometry was founded in 2001 and is now a biannual event.  It starts with four days of themed workshops followed by a two day conference. Smart Geometry (SG) workshops and conferences have been influential to many disciplines including architecture, design, engineering and mathematics. Originating as a collaboration between industry, researchers and academics, SG has always been a platform where innovative ideas become a reality, informing the potential needs of the disciplines towards a better future.
The workshops are called clusters and are organised around open calls coordinated by ‘cluster champions.’ Cluster champions are collaborative teams from academia and practice who get together to prepare a proposal, or a response, to a specific theme. SG’s open call encourages researchers, academics and industry to discuss possible research questions around the proposed theme and a research avenue, via a project. By working on this project, researchers and practitioners from industry and universities have a chance to see how these technologies can be applied. Participants for each of the clusters applied for a position via open calls with cluster briefs defined by cluster champions. Participants were selected, from a competitive, international pool of applicants, based on their background, research expertise and current interests.

The conference, which took place after the workshops furthered discussions around the workshop themes informed by different perspectives from multidisciplinary invited keynote speakers. The conference was curated in a way that would feed back into the outcomes from the workshops. In that manner, it was a dynamic conference, where the keynote speakers build on the work produced by the clusters and open up new agendas for future speculations. The conference was followed by Q&A sessions that allowed the workshop participants to engage with the keynote speakers openly. These exchanges also provided opportunities for future collaborations.
The University of Toronto hosted Smatgeometry under the theme “Machine Minds”, which revolved around machine learning and AI (Artificial Intelligence). Current discussions on machine learning and AI, generally consist of depressing scenarios of humans coming to an end or humans losing their jobs. Websites like “Will robots take my job?” are opening up discussions about how we should give away our passions for our professions. As a trending topic for many disciplines, SG focused on how machine learning and AI can be utilised for design and what could be some other positive and constructive ways of approaching this topic. The clusters explored the applicable areas of Machine Learning and AI, whereas the keynote speakers of the conference tried to create an understanding of what is machine learning and AI and its impact on our society, as well as the methods they use them in their practice.
The clusters at SG were:
–          Smart materials (Fibrous timber joints, Materials as probes)
–          Smart geometries (AI strategies for space frame design, Mind ex-machine)
–          Smart fabrication methodologies (Soft Office)
–          Smart and innovative ways of perceiving the environment (Behavioural Enviro[NN]ments, Data Mining the City, Fresh Eyes, Inside the Black Box, Sound and Signal)
All of them used cutting-edge technologies and customized software to define geometries. These technologies included interactive tables, VR headsets, industrial robots, mobile robots, CNC routers, sensors, microphones, and many more. One of the most dominant software platforms used by clusters was Rhino with the Grasshopper plug in, as a unifying platform, but there was also other software such as Unity, Processing, Arduino, Python, or custom build software for the clusters. More information on each of the clusters can be found here.
Highlights from conference discussions were;
–          what is AI and machine learning,
–          how AI and machine learning will affect the future of societies and how we can get prepared,
–          collecting, interpreting and managing data,
–          natural intelligence versus digital intelligence,
–          machine learning versus human learning,
–          robotics and advanced manufacturing,
–          interactive installations,
–          complex geometries.
The schedule and the keynote speakers can be found here.
As part of the SG2018 there was also a trip to see the new workplace of Autodesk Toronto. Autodesk has been a close collaborator of SG as a sponsor and providing know-how, keynote speakers, cluster champions and event participants. The new Autodesk workplace has been designed using generative algorithms and has a research centre for exploring new technologies. One of the clusters (Mind ex Machina) took place in this research centre, using two UR10 collaborative robotic arms with custom build open source software for SG18. It seems Autodesk has started to take a pioneering role in research by collaborating with research institutions, researchers and companies through these research centres. With artist-in-residency programs, they are opening up their facilities globally to makers and curious minds. A list of Autodesk research centres can be found here.
Looking forward to the future, next Smartgeometry will take place at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, USA, 2020 with another challenging theme!


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From Digitisers to 3D Scanning

3D Scanning is an integral part of advanced manufacturing. Especially for complex three-dimensional forms, such as architecture and sculptural public art. As discussed in our article on the fabrication of Emily Floyd’s Poll, 3D scanning from a scaled physical maquette is often the starting point for digital fabrication. The method used for scanning maquettes effects the amount of detail captured in the scan. The quality of scans can impact the processes involved in manufacturing. Over time this technology has evolved and changed. Scanners can now obtain information in increasing detail. This detailed information assists in achieving higher accuracy, and efficiency, from advanced manufacturing technologies.

Looking back to Digitisers

In this video excerpt of a 60 minutes segment on Frank Gehry’s work from the 1990s shows an early form of 3D scanning for digital fabrication. This type of scanning involved using a digitiser to map out a series of points, in three-dimensional space. From these points, CAD software is used to create a three-dimensional shell of the form. This shell would be then scaled up and used for the basis of creating the model for a building. This type of scanning provided some simple spatial information for designers to work, but it was limited to points in three-dimensional space. People were then required to add in data, using CAD software, such as materials and textures to each surface of the scanned 3D model.

Testing new scanners

As 3D scanning technology has progressed, 3D scanners can collect more information about the object. The advances in these technologies are pushed forward by vision, sensor, infrared, and lighting technology. Contemporary scanners can gather detailed information about the surface of an object including its texture and materiality. As part of our research, we are experimenting with different scanners to test out their capacities and ascertain which scanners are best suited to different materials and projects. The video below features Dr Muge Belek Fialho Teixeira and Dr Helen Hou, our two postdoctoral research fellows, testing out a spider scanner.

As part of this process, the researchers tested out three different types of scanners; a Kinect v2, an Intel Real Sense, and an Artec Eva. Each scanner produced different results depending on the technique used for scanning and the material of the object. The researchers tested scanning timber, foam, and metal with a matte finish, and metal with a reflective surface. As you can see from the chart below, each scanner produced different results.

The next phase of the project involves attaching the scanner to the robotic arm, which will provide it with vision. With the scanner, the robotic arm is able to move around an object and scan it from various angles. Additionally, our team are developing new software that will enable the robotic arm to use this scanned data so that it can perform tasks such as fettling of sheet metal and polishing. Effectively, we are aiming to equip the robot with vision so that it can undertake a wise range of automated tasks.