Lead Institution: Cardiff University
Industry Partners: Building Design Partnership Ltd, IMAKR Ltd and Kevin McCabe Ltd
Project Team: Dr Wassim Jabi (PI) (Cardiff), Dr Alejandro Veliz Reyes (University of Plymouth), Dr Aikaterini Chatzivasileiadi (Cardiff) and Dr Nicholas Wardhana (Cardiff)
Project Duration: 18 months (January 2018 – June 2019)
This project aims to investigate fabrication procedures and methodologies for robotically supported 3D printing utilising cob and similar clay-based sustainable building materials.
Cob is a construction material formed by a mix of clay, sand, water, soil and straw. It has been traditionally utilised to build small and medium sized buildings throughout the world. England and France have developed a strong cob construction tradition (a particularly high concentration of cob constructions can be found in the English Southwest), yet ancient cob constructions have been also documented in North America, New Zealand and Middle East. Recent research has demonstrated financial benefits, building regulation compliance, and building performance benefits for the use of cob. By adding value through digital manufacturing techniques, cob is expected to provide fast, inexpensive and adaptable on-site digital fabrication. This makes it applicable in remote locations, requires the upskilling of the labour workforce, and can optimise constructive processes under challenging conditions such as post-disaster recovery.
Cob construction techniques operate under established frameworks of practice (know-how) often based on notions of hand-making, hand-assembling and localised material intelligence. This operational knowledge has been developed over many years outside the boundaries of academic, technological and professional disciplinary frameworks. Here, this study identifies a research need and an opportunity. While the automation of building processes has successfully engaged with the production of building elements and components, it is currently facing development and application challenges for on-site, large-scale construction due to shortages in digital/technological skills and the logistic impossibilities of testing real scale, context- and craft- aware technologies in buildings. These challenges require a view of digital innovation and manufacturing as not only methodological and technological pathways for this study, but also vehicles to bridge the gap between vernacular, craft-based knowledge and technological principles and applications (TRLs 1-3) in the manufacturing and Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) industries.