Bioplastic Robotic Materialisation

design to robotic production of biodegradable lamps


Bioplastics or biopolymers are substances that are composed of renewable organic biomass sources, such as starch, cellulose or sugar. Because of their biological origin, they are inherently biodegradable, which means that they can easily be broken down into CO2, water, energy, and cell mass with the aid of microbes, rendering them largely carbon neutral. On top of their ecological advantages to standard plastics, which are largely derived from petrochemicals and can take hundreds of years to degrade, they help to conserve fossil raw materials and the dependency on mineral oil. Yet bioplastics still have a long way to come until they will be able to seriously compete with their petrochemical rivals. Mostly the two to three times higher cost in production but also the fear of loosing land for the growth of food or accelerated rate of deforestation hinder its economic development. Similar concerns exist over its impact on water supply and soil erosion. Since the building and construction industry is among the largest consumers of plastics, the potential of less pollutant plastic alternatives is fairly obvious. However the biodegradability of bioplastic poses a major problem and currently results in applications mainly reduced to the interior or of temporary character.

Within this collaborative course between the Dessau Department of Design and the Dessau Institute of Architecture we set out to explore the potentials of such bioplastic materials in combination with cutting-edge robotic fabrication in order to produce compostable lamps. Recent advancements in digital design and robotic materialization have introduced innovative methods for the realization of complex geometries and direct experimentation through physical prototyping. The flexibility and programmability of such techniques allows for the implementation of alternative materials in various scales ranging from product design to building processes. Consequently in the particular context of working with bioplastics, the efficiency of the design can be achieved by engineering the complexity of material distribution and controlling the degradability level of the used material itself.

The learning objective of this course was twofold. On the one hand, the participants got acquainted with the fundamentals of parametric design to robotic production. On the other hand, they performed systematic scientific experiments with bioplastic in order to develop the perfect material for robotic production. Following a phase of experimental research, the overall goal was to design and robotically produce lampshades made from self-made bioplastic material. According to the outcomes of the experiments and design explorations, relevant techniques of robotic fabrication such as subtractive or additive manufacturing were used.

The following provides an overview of the realized student projects:

Changing customs – Vegan Bioplastic Chandelier

Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude – as far as is possible and practicable – all forms of exploitation and cruelty to animals, either for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. While the group’s focus on veganism is expressed directly through their bioplastic material, which doesn’t include animal gelatine, they created a design that makes people aware that humanity’s current customs are a problem, especially for future generations. 

Institute
Dessau Department of Design & Dessau Institute of Architecture

Students
Changing customs – Vegan Bioplastic Chandelier: Tania Sabrina Ortiz Ramírez, Delta Carolina Gómez Linares, Valmir Kastrati, Louise Meyer, Marie Philine Frances Rockmann, Tang Yuanfeng / Second Skin: Johanna Müller, Dominique Lohaus, Amro Hamead, Neady Oduor, Quenna Leer / Fruit Lamp: Hossameldin Badr, Kyanoush Bitafaran, Juan Antonio Herrera Gonzalez, Ludwig Epple, Erik Scherenberg / Lifelight: Luise Eva Maria Oppelt, Martin Naumann, Julia Ziener, Adib Khaeez, Kamal Amgad, Jason Hage / Araneo: Toni Pasternak, Anian Till Stoib, Iwan Mazlan, Mohamed Mansour, Jakob Emmerling, Gulfia Kutlahmetova

Supervision
Manuel Kretzer, Sina Mostafavi

Assistants
Mohammed Saad Moharram, Arise Wan

Robotic Workshop Support
Carl Buchmann

Video
Esteban Amon, Dokuteam HS Anhalt


Based on this idea the team worked with two basic design principles; variants in height to emulate the topography of Planet Earth and surface subdivision to represent individuals and population. In each cell a Led point light was placed before casting the material into the robotically produced mould. As pictured an interesting feature to this design is the way the impurity of the material mix creates ranges of translucencies as the light travels through the solidified plastic. However, the lifespan of this recipe is significantly lower than the mixtures of other groups.

Second Skin

The concept of this group focused on the idea of making us feel more humane in the future. In a world where algorithms and artificial intelligence surround and control everything, it could become normal to interact with machines that simulate feelings. Thus this project – which suggests a second skin encapsulating our body – is supposed to show and remind us of our true selves by displaying real emotions. By combining bioplastic with thermochromic pigments, the group created a material, that turns white when reaching a temperature above 34°C and hence reacts to the body of the person wearing it. The product is thus able to detect and record for example physiological signs of stress and excitement by measuring temperature changes in the skin and is, therefore, able to communicate human feelings that might otherwise remain invisible. A series of material and fabrication tests were conducted to test different recipes as well as various geometric patterns. The production process implemented a round blade cutter mounted on a robotic arm. After preparing and cooking the customized bioplastic, the relatively viscous material was laid down on flat trays. A parametric design to production model accompanied by a robotic simulation made sure that the cutting pattern was producible. Variation in the lengths and directions of the cut resulted in a porous garment. The porosity, as well as the outline shape of each part of the garment, was informed by the local curvature and temperature of the human body.

Fruit Lamp

Starting from the necessity to develop more sustainable solutions and looking at nature for inspiration, this group designed and produced a lamp that resembles natural forms, which due to its biodegradability could become directly integrated into existing tree structures. In addition to the environmental friendliness of the product, the group integrated a gravity pulley mechanism, which allowed the lamp to be illuminated without the necessity of external electricity. The lamp can thus be placed and used independently from access to an external electrical power supply. Several tests were done with robotic milling to find the right geometric properties and proportions. Moreover, it was essential to ensure consistency and stiffness as each of the elements transforms from a flat surface to a curved one. Therefore, coffee grounds and powdered leaves were added to the mixture.

Lifelight

Lifelight is a concept, which is ought to make the parting from a loved one easier by transforming the unpleasant experience into a process of renewal and becoming. Based on the idea of the life cycle, the design started by using a circle in plan view onto which different emotions and moods of the diseased (hypothetically collected over their lifetime) were mapped, gradually turning the basic shape into a complex array of overlapping patterns. Regarding the production technique, the group focused on experimental 3D printing, which was made possible due to the particular material recipe they developed. The fabrication and material research in this project demonstrate the promising potential of bioplastics for additive manufacturing. Eventually, successful prints were possible through an extensive set of experiments and step by step documentation of key parameters such as the viscosity and temperature of the paste, the size of the nozzle of the custom-made robotic extruder, the height of each printing layer, the speed of the servo motor pushing the material, and the robotic toolpath speed.

Araneo

Lighting accounts for a large percentage of global electricity consumption and considerable percentage of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, an estimated 16 percent of the world’s population lacks access to modern energy services. Light is one of Germany’s most energy-consuming fields in terms of power usage. One percent of all electrical currents in Germany are used to power streetlights and guidance lights and about 40% of all power generated in Germany is made in lignite-fired power plants. In addition to the power usage, light pollution became a massive problem in larger cities. The Araneo project thus proposes a different approach towards urban lighting to create less wasteful products and a more comfortable atmosphere for pedestrians. Araneo is a self-luminescent lighting system, made from a highly flexible biodegradable material, which makes it easy to be applied on basically any given surface, like trees, walls or ceilings. The project was produced using a very fine and highly detailed robotically manufactured mould. After having a series of one-to-one scale tests on various moulds with different morphologies and sizes, the final outcome reached 1.2 meters in length and width.

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