German robotics centre builds new digital testing ground

Germany’s Center Construction Robotics (CCR) at Aachen is partnering with Autodesk to create a new digital testing ground for making construction more efficient and sustainable.

The project is the brainchild of Austrian architect and professor Sigrid Brell-Cokcan (pictured above), who has been working with robots for more than 15 years. In 2010, she founded the Association for Robots in Architecture, the world’s largest creative network to promote industrial robots in architecture, design and art.

Brell-Cokcan is director of Individualised Production at RWTH Aachen University, which is celebrating its 150th year. She was a driving force in the foundation of the CCR on the RWTH campus in 2018, and has been researching new construction technologies with undergraduate and postgraduate students and European industrial partners. In February 2020, she and her colleagues broke ground on the new building site.

“The site will be digital and networked,” Brell-Cokcan told Autodesk’s Redshift website.

“We want to research assistance systems that allow people to concentrate on the essential elements of their work to make construction safer and more innovative, as well as increase the attraction of the profession itself.”

The new centre will include an outdoor maker space comprising 24 construction containers, which will be made available to established companies, start-ups, public institutions and research institutes. It will use digitalised logistics to organise construction sites, solving problems such as misplaced tools, incorrect parts delivery, and missing materials. Additive manufacturing is another major area of research at the centre.

The Center Construction Robotics was established in 2018 to research robotics in architecture

Brell-Cokcan also hopes the site will help suppliers from other industries recognise the potential for construction. As well as Autodesk, the university has partnered with industrial companies such as Porr, Liebherr Tower Cranes, Eiffage, Leonhard-Weiss and Hilti.

The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) has funded a research project called the Internet of Construction, which Brell-Cokcan wants to use to uncover which information flows are digital, what platforms are used, and how collaboration can be more efficient.

Brell-Cokcan says smart data is more important than big data. “We should focus on smart data and only collect information that is relevant,” she said, adding that this will improve time savings and platform capacity, streamlining processes.

The CCR is an Autodesk Technology Impact Partner, and sustainability is one of the lead issues being researched. An RWTH consortium led by the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering wants to reduce construction’s carbon consumption, drawing on research from the Fuel Science Centre.

The centre is also researching how building materials could bind and recycle pollutants, how these materials could be used and dismantled throughout their lifecycle, and how the circular economy could make construction more environmentally friendly.

Brell-Cokcan hopes that the new robotics building can connect different university departments and has set up an English language master’s programme in Construction Robotics which will bring together undergraduate students from mechanical engineering, computer science, civil engineering, and architecture.

“We believe that the entire construction industry will be subject to disruptive change over the next 10 to 20 years,” Brell-Cokcan said. Her aim is to make machines that are “as simple as possible – something that everyone can use, like a smartphone”, to help ensure that digitisation actively promotes the creativity of architects.  

The full article can be accessed here

Images: Friederike Voigt

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