Making 3D façades: the Pinbed

Imagine being able to produce façade panels in any shape you can imagine. This has long been a holy grail for production and manufacturing companies in the field of architecture. Developer Karel Vollers has taken significant steps towards realising that dream with his production system prototype, the Pinbed Wizard.

The Pinbed Wizard rationalises the production of freely curved panels. It uses computer software to steer a large machine comprising about 200 ‘pins’ which are used to shape materials such as metals, glass or concrete. The heart of the production system is this adjustable mould. An array of 14 by 14 steel pins protrude through the tabletop and are computer-controlled for maximum accuracy. Each pin is independently adjusted using an actuator, or motor, which allows for any number of shapes.

A flexible material such as rubber or aluminium is laid over the tops of the pins and this acts as the shaping mould. The material to be shaped is laid or poured over this plate and a second mould is brought into place from above. The two moulds together shape the concrete, glass or steel into the required shape.

This system allows production of freely curved architectural panels, though panels could also be used in interiors, in boats and in infrastructure. This new market has almost limitless potential and many interesting facets, as listed below.

Fitting into current building practice
The pinbed makes use of intermediate goods – materials which are in process, not complete. This means they are relatively cheap as well as easy to work with. It also reduces interruption in the workflow.

Improving existing shapes
The machine can reproduce common façade panel forms such as cylindrical or conical shapes. It also can be used for complex shapes – torsion, saddles or non-linear curvatures that are almost impossible to recreate outside of hand-crafting.

In principle, the mould has no waste. Exact quantities of the material are place on the mould and no cutting or breaking is involved in production. In addition, there are no particulate emissions.

A particularly interesting advantage for architects is the new production possibility that occur as a result of the horizontal design. Traditional casts for concrete are produced vertically and this increases pressure on the mould. The pinbed allows for horizontal forming, greatly reducing the stress. This implies higher operating temperatures of up to 570 °C. A further advantage is the reduction of stress on the material itself due to the distributed load system.

All in all, the pinbed is set to reshape the production of complex shapes in architecture. Materia is proud to have hosted the prototype at the Materia Inspiration Centre as part of the “3D Façades” theme. The next generation of the pinbed is already in development. Besides inventor Dr ir Karel Vollers, significant contributions were provided by DEMO (Centre for Mechanical and Electronic Development) at Delft University of Technology, Linak and Van Lagen Metaalbewerking. The project is supported by a NL government STW-VG2 grant.

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