While concrete and steel are some of the most widely used materials in the construction industry, timber remains one of the most versatile and reliable structural elements. It’s strong, renewable, and allows for speedy and efficient construction of many different types of buildings, especially in residential markets.
There are a variety of components used in timber-framed construction, such as carriage bolts in stainless steel, zinc, galvanized, and HDG, which are specially designed to suit lumber constructions. Although timber-framed construction methods are among the longest and most widely used, sturdy framing demands a specific body of knowledge, particularly when complex architectural forms are being erected. There’s a renewed appreciation for wood-framed structures in the construction industry, and that has made some companies look for ways to use modern technology to enhance this very traditional, perhaps even archaic, approach to construction.
The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) of Zurich, with the help of contracting firm Erne AG Holzbau, is exploring different ways to use robots in the process of assembling prefabricated, timber frame structures. Their joint development is known as Spatial Timber Assemblies. This system allows for the digital fabrication and construction of timber forms that can be quite complex.
The structure of the form is defined by a digital model, which robots then assemble piece by piece. The assembly chamber where all this takes place features robotic arms that are mounted from the ceiling. The arms then collaborate, picking up each building element, pre-drilling holes, and securing it in place as a human then installs bolts and other fasteners.
The system relies on complex algorithms to ensure the robots work in a streamline, synchronized fashion without bumping into one another or any objects or humans present at the assembly site. The system also allows for the efficient construction of uniquely strong structures made from timber without any steel beams or reinforcing plates. This is made possible through load-distribution algorithms that digitally incorporate carefully calculated and fully optimized structural integrity into a frame.
The Spatial Timber Assemblies system is already being used to construct modules that will be part of an experimental structure in Dubendorf, Switzerland known as the DFAB House. The top two floors will be created through the system. Each level will have separate rooms with the exterior being wrapped in clear plastic to reveal the 487 timber beams that comprise the structure.
This system may prove to be particularly useful as utilization of renewable materials is becoming a greater priority for the construction industry. Will this automated approach help shape the way we build our future?