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.


Advances in Design Robotics for Architectural Fabrication

Advances in automation and robotics are changing the way we work, make, and create. In the discipline of architecture, these advances are providing exciting opportunities for designers to experiment with building forms. This article provides a brief survey of emerging and experimental applications of robotics in architectural fabrication.   
Zaha Hadid Architects, based in London, have used exhibitions as a platform to experiment with digital fabrication. There are two examples of Hadid’s practice engaging with robotics for architectural fabrication. These are, Arrum, which was an installation for the Venice Biennale in 2012. The freestanding form was made from 488 unique interlocking metal panels. These panels were robotically folded along pre-scored lines to ensure the correct curve in the folds and then the form was assembled by hand. Robotically folded metal could provide a faster alternative to casting or incremental sheet forming. You can view how the sheets of metal were folded by two robotic arms in this video here:
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Another project by Zaha Hadid Architects, called Thallus was exhibited at the Salon Del Mobile in 2017. The installation used a combination of fabrication techniques. A polystyrene form was first cut with hot wire and was then used as a base onto which the curving lattice work was 3D printed. A 3D printer head was attached to a robotic arm and the form was printed in a thermoplastic material using a production method called Fused Filament Fabrication (often referred to as FDM). There were some issues with the final structure, which needed some additional reinforcement to stay together because the printed lines delaminated. You can see the entire production process for this installation in this video here: 
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An innovative project that is advancing 3D printing with metal is the MX3D Bridge. This project started in 2015 and is due for completion in 2018. It involves 3D printing a bridge from an incremental building up of welded stainless steel. The bridge will be printed as one single piece. The robots will move out over the structure as it is built. Originally intended to be built on-site, it is instead being fabricated it in a workshop.
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Another project that exhibits an innovative application of 3D printing is the Daedalus Pavilion by AiBuild (2016). This project was a 3D printed pavilion for a technology conference. The scale of printing for this project is impressive as it shows how robotic arm printing can be used to produce much larger structures than what can be achieved with desktop 3D printing.
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The last example of 3D printing presented in this article is Phantom Geometry by Kyle & Liz Von Hasseln from SciArc in the USA completed in 2011. This is a highly experimental work exploring robotic 3D printing with the ‘DLP’ method. This is where digital light is used to cure a UV sensitive resin. It’s an alternative to fused deposition modelling (FDM), which is more commonly used with robotic 3D printing.
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Another experimental digital fabrication method to come out of SciArc is sPhysical by Besler, Kosgoron, Tuksam, & Vikar, completed in 2011. This is a highly experimental work that uses robot-controlled heat guns to control the deformation of plastic shapes.
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The next two examples show how robots can be used to ‘weave’ structures. The first is called Elytra Filament Pavilion exhibited at the Victor and Albert Museum by Achim Menges from the University of Stuttgart created in 2016. This is the latest in a series of works from Achim Menges to explore a fabrication technique where carbon fibre strands are woven over a frame by a pair of robots. Once the carbon fibre sets, the frames are removed and the pieces are light enough to be lifted by a single person. The pieces are then assembled on-site.
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The second example of robotic welding involves the use of natural materials. This project, titled Robotic Softness, also emerged from the University of Stuttgart by Giulio Brugnaro and was completed as a Masters Thesis Project in 2015. The project explored the ability of a robot to produce woven structures from cane. It is notable because it does not rely on a pre-programmed script, but instead used a ‘behavioural approach’ which used a vision scanning system to detect where the cane material was and adjust its movements accordingly.
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This next project also used natural materials. Titled, Wood Chip Barn, it was completed in 2016 by students at the Architectural Association. The students used tree forks from a local forest to make beams. These were assembled into the frame for a large structure. The trees were scanned and then milled into by a robot so that they would fit together.
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The last two projects featured in this article hail from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, better known as ETH, in Zurich. One is the Smart Dynamic Concrete Casting, which is a novel process for forming load bearing concrete columns. A robotic forming head moves with the concrete and shapes it to the desired profile as the concrete is setting. A steel frame is fabricated first for the concrete to be formed over.  
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And lastly, from ETH is the project titled, Stratifications, by Gramazio and Kohler. This is a system that explores stacking as a fabrication technique. The interesting aspect to this project is that the robot responds to variations in the structure as it goes. It uses a scanning device to get feedback on the structure and adapt to it.
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This is just a brief survey of advanced manufacturing technologies that have the potential to change the way designers and architects work. Do you know of any other examples that you think we should profile on this website? Or are you developing your own technologies, or working with digital fabrication and would like us to profile your work? Please get in touch via email


Emily Floyd’s 'Poll' Artwork

Australian sculptor Emily Floyd recently worked with Brisbane based public art fabricators, UAP on a privately commissioned sculpture. The work, titled Poll, was fabricated using advanced manufacturing technologies—including a Kuka six axis robotic arm.
Emily Floyd’s sculpture, Poll, (pictured below) is a parrot named after a literary character in Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. Poll stands at 1.4 metres tall and is made from 18 different pieces. The body of the parrot is black and there are six colours for the wings, tail, and beak. It is the first in a series of five ‘literary’ parrots. They are made by combining Floyd’s traditional hand-carving techniques with advanced manufacturing technologies.
Floyd, who draws from a family background in toy making, creates handmade scaled models of her sculptures—these models are often referred to as ‘maquettes’. This process meant her work was ideal for advanced manufacturing processes. Floyd’s maquette for Poll was digitally scanned and then scaled up to full size using 3D modelling software.
From this digital model, the Kuka six axis robotic arm cut a mould from compressed blocks of sand. The sand moulds were then used by fabricators in UAP’s workshop to cast each of the pieces out of aluminium for the sculpture.

Image credits: Roger D’Souza Photography

The Benefit of Working with Robots

In an interview Floyd spoke enthusiastically about the sophisticated capabilities of robots and how this positively affected the fabrication of her sculpture. She said that, ‘it can make so many more decisions than an artist can, make them really quickly. Thousands of decisions all at once, even about that surface and how to cut it, how to smooth it.’ Robots are not replacing the handmade, rather they help makers to achieve a higher level of accuracy.
Reflecting on the quality of the finished sculpture, Floyd was pleased with the outcome saying that it was, ‘very high [quality] production, perfect, yeah. I’ve done well. It’s a real achievement. It makes me very proud [of] it and I’m very proud of it.’

Experimenting with Robots earlier in the creative process.

Floyd suggests that it would be beneficial to incorporate robotics earlier in the artistic process—prior to fabrication—which would lead to, ‘an open-ended inquiry’. She proposed that robots could also inform creative experimentation where an artist might ask, ‘”What can this do? What do I know it can do? What might it be able to do?”’ Floyd commented that incorporating robots earlier in the creative process would result in ‘more experimentation where you don’t know what the outcome is going to be.’
However, access to this technology is a significant hindrance for artists who would like to experiment with digital fabrication. Floyd expressed that ‘one of the frustrations that artists have with expensive technology is that we can only use it once or we don’t have access to it to experiment with it fully and make it an artwork that really explores it as a means of production. It’s more that it’s something that this production has that used to achieve a specific art process. In terms of it being like really integrated into the artwork itself, I wouldn’t say that it’s highly experimental.’
Clearly, the challenge is set, to make advanced manufacturing technology more available to artists, small scale designers, artisans, and other creatives. Encouraging opportunities for experimentation with technology in creative pursuits has the potential to lead on to greater innovation for creative Australian enterprises.  

Cost of fabricating art in Australia

The advantages of incorporating robots into large scale, mass production in the Australian manufacturing sector are already known. The potential payback for smaller scale, bespoke manufacturing—businesses such as UAP—look just as promising. This is especially in terms of manufacturing costs and maintaining these businesses onshore.
Floyd commented on the issue of limited access to bespoke manufacturing in Australia, saying that ‘manufacturing is a huge problem in Australia, because everything’s too expensive. I work a lot of these artisans who are closing down and you need to basically subsidise them to keep going, which is very expensive. It becomes just impossible and art is not a real economy.’
Floyd’s reflections on working with advanced manufacturing to create her sculpture Poll, highlight two important points. Firstly, the need for easier access to robotics and digital fabrication technology for the creative industries. This will encourage greater experimentation, leading to the potential benefits of these technologies for artistic, design and creative making processes. Secondly, Floyd identifies the decline of small scale bespoke manufacturing businesses in Australia, despite there being a demand for their services. The utilization of advanced manufacturing by these businesses has the potential to revive Australia’s small scale and artisan manufacturers.

Image credits: Roger D’Souza Photography