A 3D printed frame for free-form structures

On the occasion of the Milan Design Week 2021 at the Leonardo Da Vinci Museum of Science and Technology, INDEXLAB and GIMAC-EXGINEERING present the new construction system "SUPERFRAME®".

SUPERFRAME® is an innovative construction system invented by INDEXLAB in cooperation with GIMAC-EXGINEERING, that proves how geometric complexity can be managed with simplicity, elegance, and lightness. SUPERFRAME® is manufactured using a production process that employs recycled plastics through RAM (Robotic Additive Molding) technology.

Specifically, the three-dimensional frames that form the paneling of curved surfaces are characterized by twisted faces that are difficult to manufacture with traditional methods. The "SUPERFRAME®" system can solve this issue by using 3d printed frames that can be coupled with any cladding material for interiors or exteriors, enabling countless configuration possibilities, and offering designers the greatest creative freedom.

This innovative construction system is interpreted with a combination of beauty and technology in the URBAN LOUNGE installation, signed by the prestigious design firm Pininfarina, designed in partnership with INDEXLAB, and powered by Gimac-Exgineering, Nieder, Eco2Zone, DesignDifferente, EuroCooling, and Virtualogiq.

Moreover, to give an understanding of its potential, the building system is shown paired with different finishes, such as advanced fabrics by i-Mesh and TECU® Gold paneling by Nieder.

The installations are part of RoGUILTLESSPLASTIC by Rossana Orlandi, one of the most prestigious initiatives in redefining the use of plastic.

The making of URBAN LOUNGE installation

From the initial sketches and models by Pininfarina, the installation’s free-form geometry was designed by INDEXLAB in order to comply with all of the manufacturing and assembly requirements without altering the original concept. A generative algorithm has been specifically developed to optimize the triangulation, obtaining a uniform discretization compatible with the robotic manufacturing process. The elaborated mesh was then enriched by a pattern of curves obtained from the mutual intersection between the mesh itself and complex surfaces, generating lines of force that move from the base of the installation towards the sky. The installation interacts with the surrounding terrain, modeled specifically to blend seamlessly with the mesh itself. In order to obtain this effect, the sloped terrain was achieved by a wooden waffle structure filled with soil and covered with a final layer of gravel.
The components of the waffle structure were designed through algorithmic processes that converted the geometrical information into machine code for the CNC milling process minimizing waste and optimizing production times.

The meshed geometries that compose the installations have been analyzed to ensure that each triangular frame can be obtained through means of additive manufacturing. Specifically, the maximum draft and vertex angles were tested to identify the manufacturing limits of the technology. The toolpath algorithm has been developed to convert the 3D shapes of each frame into a continuous toolpath for the 3D printing process. Moreover, a rich set of parameters have been assigned to each point of the toolpath allowing to easily control every feature of the 3D printing process. The most critical aspect of the superframe system, the interface between the ABS extrusion and the aluminum panel, has been tested thoroughly. The goal was to limit the thickness, and overall cost, of the aluminum sheets while ensuring sufficient stiffness to compensate for the shrinkage effect of the heated plastic during and after the printing process. All the necessary information for the assembly and 3D printing process have been integrated into the aluminum sheet that acts as a base and blueprint of the superframe. The nested panels each have a unique ID and neighbor tags that allow to easily identify their position in the installation.
The manufacturing files and project information (printing time and material cost) have been obtained through a single complex algorithm that allows to easily scale and modify the project with little to no effort from the design teams.

In order to emphasize the importance of trees in the biological processes of all living things, an immersive light installation was designed to draw the visitor’s attention.
To achieve this scenography, the DMX standard was chosen as the most suitable solution because it allows complete control over the color and intensity of the light through complex animations that loop seamlessly. From a technical standpoint, the system required three main categories of components, both hardware, and software: lightning fixtures, interface and control devices, programming software. In detail, the system architecture is composed of six RGB fixtures that can be addressed individually, both online and offline, with up to twenty-four discrete channels, from one controller interface. The six fixtures were divided between the two main parts of the installation each one consisting of two RGB LED spotlights and a NEON effect LED strip ranging from 3 to 6.5 meters in length.

INDEXLAB coordinated both the off-site production (GIMAC-EXGINEERING) and the assembly of the installation (NIEDER). The manufactured panels have been assembled off-site into clusters, ensuring that each one could be easily lifted and transported manually. Each cluster was assembled taking into account the tolerances of the superframe system and guaranteeing the highest quality standard. Every assembly phase on-site has been managed in consideration of the museum’s strict regulations and ensuring that the least amount of heavy machinery has been used inside the museum itself. The onsite works have been coordinated with the other installers avoiding delays and ensuring that all operations proceeded smoothly and without setbacks.



Year: 2020-2021
Industrial partners: Nieder, Eco2Zone, EuroCooling, eXtreme Materials, DesignDifferente, Pininfarina, i-Mesh.


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