Incremental Forming – Ars Electronica Festival 2015

Incremental Forming – Ars Electronica Festival 2015

As part of the Ars Electronica Festival 2015, the Association for Robots in Architecture, the Chair for Individualized Production at RWTH Aachen, and the University for Arts and Design Linz collaborated on a robot installation at the PostCity – an industrial space, where the city of the future was discussed through a wide range of installations, exhibits, and other events.

Incremental Forming shows how an industrial robot – a machine that is commonly used for mass fabrication – can be used for mass customization, where every piece is unique and can be tailored to individual requirements. Building upon the existing, industrial process of single-point incremental forming, where metal is incrementally “pushed” into shape by large machines, we experimented with substituting metal with common, 1mm PET-G plastic sheets using a medium-sized robotic arm.

This installation presents our first forays into this new forming process. Initially, the base form of each panel is defined by the hand-movement of the user, captured through a compact 3D-scanning device. This data is then used to create a digital 3D surface, onto which a number of agents – very simple, small programs – is released that try to find a path from one side to the other. Following this digital pre-processing, the robot first draws the results of the agent system onto one side of the panel, and then switches to the other side to gradually deform the plastic surface. The forming process happens entirely without heat, instead moving gradually deeper into the material and thus shaping it by force alone.

This workflow turns every panel into an individual piece, designed by both the unique movement of a person and the decisions-making of the autonomous agent system.