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University Robot Creates 'Intelligent' Bricks

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

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Architect and senior lecturer Christian Lange, based out the University of Hong Kong, recently spearheaded the development of a robot that creates “intelligent” bricks that researchers say could reduce air conditioner usage.

Inspired by a robot bricklayer created by Swiss architects and the use of ceramic in Chinese culture, Lange thought the first piece of equipment produced by the university’s Fabrication and Material Technologies Lab should be a 3D printer that could print clay.

Intelligent Bricks

While standard bricks can be found throughout the world, a special kind of brick is required for creating buildings such as terracotta structures, including the 11th-century timber-framed Iron Pagoda in Kaifeng, a city in Henan province.

“This new technology, being able to print your own material, offers to the architect a whole new world of how to express your building,” said Lange.

University of Hong Kong

Serving as a proof-of-concept, the Ceramic Constellation Pavilion was the first product of this process, standing 3.8 meters (12.4 feet) tall. Lange reported that some bricks were fired at too low a temperature, rendering the material not strong enough for use.

The industrial-scale 3D printer, paired with a software program to design the bricks and a robotic arm to control manufacturing, uses malleable clay and a preset algorithm to create bricks, implementing a zigzag motion. From there, the bricks need to be fired in a kiln; each takes three minutes to print, and can be created tapered, curved, angulated or perforated.

Projects and Experimentation

Serving as a proof-of-concept, the Ceramic Constellation Pavilion was the first product of this process, standing 3.8 meters (12.4 feet) tall. Lange reported that some bricks were fired at too low a temperature, rendering the material not strong enough for use.

The installation was led by Lange, as well as fellow architects and HKU lecturers Donn Holohan and Holger Kehne, and was shown last year at Olympian City, sponsored by developer Sino Group.  

Another project currently under development at the lab is exploring the functional aspects of 3D-printed bricks—namely producing bricks that can respond intelligently to environmental conditions. For example, the brick can be shaped in such a way to allow water to run through or retained within the facade. In that instance, as the water evaporates on the surface, it cools the surrounding air, lessening the demand for air conditioning in a building.

Bricks can also be designed for the accommodation of green-wall systems and planters.

“The technology allows us to create specific solutions to environmental and structural problems, as opposed to generic solutions—and, ultimately, to use less energy in the process,” said Holohan.

Moving forward, the university will be working with 3D-printing concrete, and is currently in talks with Hong Kong-based construction and engineering firm Gammon Construction about the research.

   

Tagged categories: Brick; Building materials; Research and development

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