CLINTON, Tenn., August 3, 2018 – Fast‐growing Branch Technology Inc., an architectural fabricator that specializes in large‐scale 3D printing, recently completed a pair of high‐profile projects that showcase the benefits of marrying advanced material technology with Branch’s novel method for 3D printing architectural components.
Chattanooga, Tenn.‐based Branch collaborated on both projects with plastics compounder and materials design firm Techmer PM LLC, with some eye‐catching end results –– one an outdoor structure of record‐breaking proportions in Nashville, Tenn., and the other an indoor hanging garden installation at Chicago’s Field Museum. These are just the latest in a series of high‐ profile Branch projects involving the Clinton, Tenn.‐based Techmer PM.
A Pair of Innovative Projects
The latest project is an outdoor band shell in Nashville. It leverages Branch’s Cellular Fabrication™ (C‐Fab™) methods of 3D printing wherein material can be solidified in mid‐air to create open‐matrix structures capable of taking on virtually any form. This project –– dubbed One City –– involved using these techniques to create a band shell that measures 42 feet in diameter and more than 19 feet tall, making it the largest free‐form, 3D‐printed structure in North America. One City also boasts Branch Technology’s longest unsupported span of 42 feet, creating strength through optimized geometry, without the need for structural steel.
Comprising a total of 36 smaller parts, the largest individual component measures more than 18 feet long and fills a volume of 61.5 cubic feet.
Branch chose to use Techmer PM’s Electrafil® carbon‐fiber‐reinforced engineering plastics for the band shell. The large structural elements of the construction required a lightweight, high‐ strength material, noted Alan Franc, Product Development Manager for Techmer PM.
“Electrafil provides the highest strength and stiffness performance available in thermoplastic compounds, and those were the most important properties for this project,” he noted.
Electrafil products also provide excellent 3D‐printing characteristics.
Leveraging Branch’s C‐Fab Process
Branch explains that, at its core, its Cellular Fabrication production process combines industrial robotics, sophisticated algorithms, and carbon composite materials to freeform print open‐cell structures. It is distinctive in that it prints volumes as cellular matrices. The open‐cell nature allows for efficient builds and endless dimensional form. For architectural application, the matrix acts as a formwork or scaffold to accept traditional building materials.
Branch, meanwhile, applies the other version of its product –– which uses only an exposed matrix –– in these two latest projects. The firm notes that the matrix can be used in this manner to create structures that “are as beautiful as they are revolutionary.”
C‐Fab uses a patented extrusion head attached to a Kuka Robotics arm. The arm travels along a horizontal track creating a build volume of 3,000 cubic feet. Specially developed algorithms allow it to translate virtually any three‐dimensional design into physical form. C‐Fab creates full‐ scale building components, not models. The process is capable of generating components that are 8 feet wide by 12 feet high by 30 feet long. Each component can be attached to the next, allowing even larger builds and continuous forms of unprecedented scale.
Offering Ultimate Design Freedom
Branch says that the One City band shell showcases the benefits of 3D printing. The result is a method of making custom, prefabricated building components with improved materials strength, lower construction and labor costs and increased energy efficiency.
In addition to liberating the design process, Branch suggests another key benefit to C‐Fab is that it is an inherently zero‐waste process. While the construction and demolition industry produce about 30 percent of all waste, the C‐Fab method constrains material use to only that which is absolutely required.
The process also delivers job‐site efficiencies. The U.S. construction industry wastes an estimated $73 billion in labor each year because of inefficient on‐site fabrication techniques. Branch prefabricated the One City band shell in a controlled factory environment. By shipping modular components to the job site, contractors can realize an assembly process that is as much as 30 percent faster and 1.7 times more labor efficient than typical, on‐site methods.
‘Nature Clouds’ in the Windy City
Branch Technology’s other recent project is dubbed “Nature Clouds” and represents the world’s first and largest free‐form, 3D‐printed hanging garden installation for the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History for the museum’s 125th anniversary. The project’s goal is to bring a missing natural living element in the form of an ever‐evolving “living reef” to the museum’s Stanley Field Hall.
The “clouds” are part of a larger environment that includes several life‐size dinosaur installations. The four hanging gardens, or clouds, comprise 3,940 pounds of printed material and steel, and supports vegetation, hydroponics, lighting, theatrical fog and sound equipment with a combined weight of 12,270 pounds. Each cloud can be raised or lowered as needed.
The largest cloud also provides an immersive plant environment when lowered for public interaction. Branch created the 3D printed parts on the world’s largest freeform 3D printing robots using a biopolymer as the printing material.
Specially Formulated Biopolymer
“We created a compound specifically for the Field Museum’s Nature Clouds to meet their requirements for strength, flammability, and bio‐sourced resin,” said Techmer PM’s Franc. The project’s designer, Daniel Pouzet, and the museum’s exhibits group chose Branch’s C‐Fab method to leverage the technology’s strength, light weight, design freedom, and cost effectiveness compared with traditional steel construction.
C‐Fab’s strength‐to‐weight benefits helped make it the clear choice for the installation’s interaction with the Field Museum’s historic plaster ceiling structure, Branch noted. The project’s total printed volume amounts to 756 cubic feet, comprising 279 total parts. The project was created as a kit of repeating parts capable of supporting more than 1,000 plants and plant life systems.
“Typical construction methods are constraining,” notes Branch Technology founder and CEO Platt Boyd, who himself is an architect. “Custom complex form is prohibitively expensive and often inconceivable to manufacture. With C‐Fab, cost‐effective design freedom is democratized for all.”
Other Ambitious Projects
As noted, these band‐shell and hanging garden projects are just the latest collaborations between Branch Technology and Techmer PM. The materials supplier provided biodegradable bamboo‐based compounds for the 2016 Design Miami Exhibition, in which Branch 3D printed a curved, soaring, 1,600‐cubic‐foot outdoor pavilion in Miami, Fla.
And the two partnered again last year on an award‐winning effort in NASA’s Centennial Challenge –– The 3D Printed Habitat Challenge. The project called for participants to develop technologies necessary to manufacture extraterrestrial habitat using local indigenous materials and recyclables. The aim was to create the ability to deploy autonomous machines in deep‐ space destinations, including Mars, to construct shelters for human habitation. At the same time, while on Earth, these same methods and materials could be used to produce housing that is more robust and resource conscious.
Branch’s Boyd said at the time: “Materials science was a big part of this competition, and we were glad to work with a materials design company like Techmer PM. The custom materials Techmer PM designed enabled Branch to maximize product performance and processing efficiency, allowing for a robust product to be made in realistic times.”
About Techmer PM
Techmer PM is a leading materials design company that works in partnership with plastics processors, OEMs, and designers to solve some of their most difficult business, manufacturing, and sustainability challenges. The company’s solutions modify the aesthetics, as well as extend and maintain the physical properties of plastic products. It designs custom solutions to help clients maximize performance through collaboration and by leveraging its leading-edge technology. Techmer PM was recognized by Plastics News’ “Best Places to Work” for 2014, 2016 and 2017. Learn more by visiting techmerpm.com.
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