V. Mitch McEwen - Princeton RAW Summer Workshop 2020 

With increased access to sophisticated 3D modeling tools, designers today can imagine and digitally represent nearly any geometry. While geometrically exciting, ultimately designs are limited by many real-world practicalities (material, labor, equipment, etc). If designers ignore, or are ignorant of, production constraints and best practices- designs are at risk of simplification, or costs are likely to soar, transforming into a litigious construction project. 

Designers mastering, sometimes even performing, means and methods of fabrication is not new. Various examples ranging from the Bauhaus or Eames Studio to architects in design build studios are exemplar of architect/engineer as participants in production.Today, as sophisticated CAD tools become ubiquitous across the discipline and industrial robots are embraced as a part of the designers tool kit, conversations surrounding participation, tools, labor, and disciplinary delineation are critical. 

Designers of the future must fluidly navigate the complex world of production, simultaneously learning and questioning constraints, reshaping capabilities that don’t make sense, all while controlling risks and avoiding pitfalls. In our workshop, we sought to understand the interplays between design decisions and production by simulating a complete distributed design to fabrication workflow- guided by industry partner A. Zahner Company with over 30 years experience digitally fabricating large scale architectural projects. 

The COVID-19 pandemic required us to conduct the workshop remotely. However, this was an opportunity to practice/simulate a disjointed workflow, typical in construction projects where project participants are nearly never collocated and communication is fragmented (architects, General contractors, sub contractors, suppliers, etc). 

During the workshop, we sent three small digital fabrication machines ( Cameo4 Drag knife cutters) to participants' homes, transforming their kitchens/living rooms/dorms into mini factories. While the cutting machines were only capable of cutting thin paper/plastic, the workflow from CAD design to the generation of machine specific fabrication files/code mirrored perfectly the process Zahner engineers undergo when commissioning large scale machines and robots. Participants were exposed to the nuances of file preparation and machine tacit knowledge, exposing efforts that are fundamental to the production process but often invisible to designers. Working in this context we generated export scripts tailored to the machine's idiosyncrasies and physical limitations. Paper projects acted as a stand-in for sheet metal components - allowing for simplified fabrication methods while still surfacing the challenges inherent in a full digital fabrication workflow for variable parts. 

With parts designed and fabricated - the final task centered around the labor required for the assembly of their designs, evaluating where robots can support and augment those processes. Each participant evaluated their designs through the lens of design for assembly for both human and robotic assembly - the end goal being to develop a hybrid process that capitalized on the strengths of both. The final deliverable for the workshop was a novel spaceframe, detailed for sheet metal fabrication and human/robot assembly.