manufacturing/robotics in construction

From: Rupert Soar (
Date: Fri Jan 10 2003 - 14:55:43 EET

Hi Scott,

Please pass on my greetings to Ian. I have been following the
development of the projects you list in your e-mail for some time
(including ABCS, Big Canopy, T-up etc) and I am firm supporter of these
construction techniques as solutions for tall structures and
skyscrapers. These techniques have been developed to partly overcome
the very real problems associated with employing skilled steel workers
at great heights. I think I am correct in saying that these processes,
essentially, take the worker to the location where they are needed and
supply a safe/stable environment in which to fabricate.

Relating these techniques, and the very real benefits you mention
(incidentally I would very much like to know the status of current
research in this field), to what I discussed in my RPML posting. As you
rightly distinguish, the systems you are working with are essentially
'dry' due to the problems associated with control of 'wet' materials,
but for me these differences vary little from what the rest of the
construction industry is moving towards (i.e. 'dry' modularisation and
sub-assemblies both on and off site) and does not break away from the
key issue which is the problem of organising and utilising large numbers
of skilled workers that are hard to synchronise and hard to find
(particularly in the UK).

The manufacturing industry has been through various stages of
standardisation and modularisation but in the end the technology allowed
us to move beyond this until today we can consider concepts such as Mass
Customisation. The construction industry is in exactly the same
position. In order to synchronise the construction process the only
option has been to look at standardisation and then modularisation as it
ensures consistency away from the hands of the site staff who cannot be
automated. The only real problem with modularisation and lean
construction is that once a 4 tonne modules has been made up it must be
assembled to tolerances of tenths of a millimetre, by cranes (and
operatives) working with tolerances of a millimetre. The other key
drawback is that modularisation results in a descretisation of the
building design into cubes and destroys any chance of design freedom.

So as I stated, a solution is to drive a machine on site (much like a
boom pump) or set up a gantry system and shutters and start building
that structure using the principles found in techniques such as Behrokh
Koshnevis's Contour Crafting process or a large scale 3DP process (see
Generis) which are essentially modified and controlled cure 'wet'
systems that will allow all the design freedom and little human
interaction as well as all the other benefits I mentioned in the RPML
posting. In that posting I also inferred that the major advantage of a
wet system is that you can modify its properties at the point it is
deposited/extruded. This does not necessarily imply you need "hitech"
materials (though they will be important). Just by blowing gas in to
say an extrudate, as it leaves a nozzle, during deposition, may be
"hitech" enough. Hope this answers a bit. I'll keep you posted.

I've taken the liberty of posting this back on the RPML as there has
been a good response to the first posting.

Dr Rupert Soar
Wolfson School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering
Loughborough University
LE11 3TU
tel: +44(0) 1509 227637
fax: +44(0) 1509 227549

-----Original Message-----
From: A. Scott Howe []
Sent: 10 January 2003 08:18
To: Rupert Soar
Cc: Ian Gibson; Prof. Thomas Kvan;
Subject: manufacturing/robotics in construction

Rupert, I just got your email forwarded to me from Dr. Ian Gibson of the
Department of Mechanical Engineering at University of Hong Kong. The
email discusses robotics and automated manufacturing in architecture. I
am very much interested in this topic and would like to join any
discussions that you might have along these lines.

I am currently an assistant professor at HKU Department of Architecture.
Before this time I worked for Kajima Corporation in Tokyo where we
developed the AMURAD lift-up construction system, and I am continuing my
involvement as team member with Kajima, Shimizu, and other Japanese
firms on the next generation robotic construction systems. Our approach
has been to develop design grammars for flexible kit-of-parts systems
that result in demountable, rearrangeable structures. The construction
hardware can become extensions of the kit-of-parts system, and building
components become extensions to the construction hardware (eliminating
heavy lift hardware and assisting in material handling). Using this
technology, buildings become dynamic systems that can be rearranged by
the users, rather than static one-off artifacts that are more often than
not obsolete as soon as the occupancy begins. Though much of our work is
still conceptual, several concepts such as AMURAD or Shimizu's SMART
have resulted in prototypes that have constructed several high-rise

As architecture and the construction industry attempts to rise above
dated construction processes and enter the information age, we are often
self-conscious about wet trades (in-situ concrete, plaster, masonry,
etc) that have been so typical in our field and bring so much chaos to
the construction site. For this reason we have avoided wet trades in our
research in favor of "hitech" materials and processes, except that which
has been completely necessary (I don't include precast concrete in this
observation). However, some of the items in your email hint at digitally
controlled real-time forming and layering of materials that may be
considered wet trade. I would be very much interested in having some
discussions along these lines.


A. Scott Howe, Ph.D.
University of Hong Kong Department of Architecture
AIAA Design Engineering Technical Committee (DETC)
AIAA DETC Aerospace Architecture Subcommittee
Plug-in Creations Architecture, LLC

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.7 : Sat Jan 17 2004 - 15:17:00 EET