By Nick Harris
The opening of the Autodesk Advanced Manufacturing Facility (AMF) this month signalled that the organisation’s commitment to breaking down barriers between design and fabrication is as strong as ever. It is also an acknowledgement that the UK is a leader in advanced manufacturing technology and research. Just over an hour away by car the Advanced Manufacturing Park in Sheffield hosts both Rolls Royce and Boeing’s material research centres, supported by The University of Sheffield.
Autodesk’s stated aim is to deliver an integrated set of technologies, across all the industries it serves including construction and manufacturing, to support true Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA). DfMA is a concept developed by the manufacturing industry to describe the part that the design team plays in simplifying product variations to reduce manufacturing and assembly costs and to quantify improvements. It applies as much to the construction sector as well, most notably when it comes to off-site fabrication and modular buildings. It is fair to say the constructability of a building is not always considered when the design is being developed, but that is in part because those activities are delivered by different groups of people with different skill sets. However, where there has been a concerted effort to include off-site fabricated modules, the design process is very mindful of manufacturing and transporting of those modules.
Autodesk’s goal is for its technology to assist the designer in optimising their design for fabrication and then to prepare that design for physical, automated manufacture. Ultimately, with generative design, some of the work to optimise the performance of the product will also be passed to the computer, which will work on a set of design criteria to identify the best form and material. Autodesk’s vision of the Future of Making Things is one of technology enabling and then requiring that industrial processes become much agile and collaborative. The means of production is changing as is access to capital and there is a demand for more personalisation and customisation from customers. Two of the technology pillars supporting this change is additive manufacturing and the Internet of Things (IoT). Additive manufacturing is the key to delivering the agility and level of personalisation that the Future of Making Things will require. It is a highly versatile means of quickly and cheaply turning design concepts into physical prototypes which can then be used to inform the design process or produce production machine tools. Again, this is not a technology that is limited to product manufacturing, many contractors in the UK are already trialling the use of concrete printers to deliver complex forms on construction sites.
IoT is a technology where the Future of Making Things for the manufacturing and construction sectors truly converge. Manufacturers within the construction supply chain are finding ways to include sensors within their products that feedback rich data about the status and performance of their products. Even material manufacturers are finding ways to include sensors in products like plasterboard or steelwork that can report back on the health of the installation. The resulting feedback loop about the performance of a built asset will inform design decisions for future projects.
It is no surprise that additive manufacturing and Fusion Connect, Autodesk’s IoT development platform, are two of the main technologies showcased at the Autodesk AMF. To find out more take a look at the AMF portal by following the link below and see advanced fabrication and building sensors in action.