Branch Technology Inc., an architectural fabricator that specializes in large‐scale 3D printing, has completed two projects that showcase the benefits of marrying advanced material technology with Branch’s method for 3D printing architectural components.
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. While the former is produced from Techmer PM’s Electrafil carbon‐fiber‐reinforced engineering plastics, the latter project used a biopolymer as the printing material.
According to Branch, 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. In these two projects, the matrix served as the structure itself.
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.
The result is a method of making custom, prefabricated building components with improved materials strength, lower construction and labor costs and increased energy efficiency. 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.
Branch Technology’s project “Nature Clouds” represents the world’s first and largest free‐form, 3D‐printed hanging garden installation and was made 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.
“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.”