“Upscaling is one of the most ambitious parts for digital fabrication”

Researcher Ina Cheibas is investigating additive manufacturing strategies for shading and daylight in large-scale thermoplastic facade panels. During her PhD at Gramazio Kohler Research she is developing performative geometries for façades that have the potential to be sustainable and reduce carbon emissions. The project she is working on is a collaboration with Matthias Leschok (Digital Building Technologies) and Valeria Piccioni (Architecture and Building Systems) with the goal to create an additively manufactured façade using the latest technologies. Ina aims to show that multiple functions can be integrated into a panel that is made from a single material and is easily recyclable at the end of its life cycle. In this interview, Ina looks back on her first steps in research as a PhD at ETH Zurich in the NCCR Digital Fabrication.

Ina, why did you decide at the beginning of your doctorate to specialise in the design and manufacture of 3D printed (3DP) façade elements?

3DP facades are the most important building elements regarding energy efficiency and indoor user comfort. However, this topic has been the least researched in the past decade, compared to the digital fabrication of structural elements.

Did you have any experience with 3D printing before you started working at Gramazio Kohler Research?

I worked for almost 3 years at the 3D printing company Aectual in the Netherlands. There I have been experimenting with different materials and geometries to enable 3D printing for architectural applications. Later. I worked at the European Space Agency as a researcher to investigate solutions for the 3D printing of a lunar habitat.

You are currently printing a large demonstrator. What do you have to pay attention to when upscaling?

Upscaling is one of the most ambitious parts for digital fabrication. The material plays an essential role in deformations of the entire sample. Cracking and delamination often occurs even in smaller 3DP samples. When the geometry is ten times larger, these challenges become increasingly problematic. For this reason, experimental tests are the best way to determine how feasible 3D printing is for architecture.

How does design and production differ from small samples to large demonstrators?

Large-scale demonstrators have a more realistic approach for architectural applications. However they also require increased production time, where 3DP errors are much more visible to the naked eye than smaller samples. Therefore, greater attention to detail in terms of overhang, and smooth 3DP line has to be considered.

You work with different components to test the geometries. How do you experiment with speed and extrusion values, for example?

Fabrication parameters, such as robotic speed and material extrusion values are essential for a good quality print. I personally change them depending on the geometry type. For example, the 3DP line needs to have enough extruded material and cooling time to secure the next layer on top. At the same time, it also needs faster speed to reduce fabrication time. Otherwise the accuracy of the geometry fails. Therefore an optimal speed and extrusion have to be found depending on the geometry.

You are at the end of your doctoral thesis. What has surprised you most in the academic surrounding you have been working for a while now?

It was exciting to see how so many novel research topics are investigated within a single building. It surprised me how easy it was to see the latest trends in building architecture just by talking to colleagues at the coffee counter.

You are a researcher in the NCCR DFAB and work together with two other researchers in your project. What has this collaboration brought you in human terms and what added value did it have for your project?

It confirmed my beliefs on the importance of good collaborations and how much it can enrich a project. For example, being proactive and interested in the topic creates a great working environment. What's more, a multi-disciplinary strategy offers much more insights compared to an individual perspective.