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New steel assembly technique simplifies building structure

More than 60 years after Konrad Wachsmann imagined a modular construction system, building structures are still based on the steel post and beam system with conventional bolt/weld connections. Even after significant development in digital and manufacturing technologies, most advancements in the construction industry simply add new subcomponents to this primary building system. However, new smart fabrication techniques and advanced digital design tools allow researchers to revisit Wachsmann’s holistic approach for a unit-based ‘part-to-whole’ system.

Professor Jin Young Song, an assistant professor of architecture, University at Baffalo, envisions a more efficient assembly system for steel construction by using latest techniques. The prototype developed by Song’s team is based on the elastic instability of steel, or the buckling of the material when subjected to large compressive loads. Song’s proposal distributes forces through stacked modules. Each module has four hooked legs on the top and bottom and snaps into four legs from four adjacent modules. The five modules are interlocked as one unit, where individual steel modules brace each other. The central unit of the module can be modified to create specific angles and generate a curved geometry. Song’s Snap-Interlock Module System (SIMS), a structural module with a unique interlocked configuration can be easily assembled by a single worker.

Song developed two arch shaped prototypes using 3D printed modules that exhibit the system’s geometric flexibility. Further structural analysis and new interpretation will be necessary to demonstrate how this ‘part-to-whole’ system can be applied to the building structure, facade, substructure, architectural partition walls, and more. Collaborators in the work are UB’s Sustainable Manufacturing and Advanced Robotic Technologies research group, UB associate professor of structural engineering Jongmin Shim and Xiandong He, a doctoral student in engineering at UB.

Song’s proposal has been named the 2019 Forge Prize Grand Prize Winner. The two-stage competition is organized by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) to engage designers in design innovation for steel as a 21st century building material. The prize was established by the American Institute of Steel Construction.

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