Composite Design Making Sci-Fi Dreams a Reality

Composite Design Making Sci-Fi Dreams a Reality

Pick your favorite science fiction movie and then try to imagine what the architecture in that movie might look like. Filmmakers have come up with some pretty interesting designs over the last several decades. The problem is that humanity hasn't yet possessed the technologies that would make such sci-fi dreams a reality. That is, until now. Modern composite design is bringing some of those imaginary buildings to life.

One of the hottest things in architecture right now is designing with composite fabrics. Inspired by the age-old concept of fabric canopies, engineers and architects are exploring the possibilities of using composite fabrics to create out-of-this-world facades. At the same time, others are exploring new ways of using composites to manufacture structural parts.

Getting a look at some of these amazing buildings is enough to inspire anybody who works in the composites industry. For example, consider a pavilion set to open later in 2019 at Heilbronn, Germany's annual National Garden Show. The huge structure is made almost entirely from carbon and glass fiber composites.

A ROBOTIC WONDER

Numerous reports detailing the construction of the pavilion have all pointed to the robotics being used to create what is an undeniably unique structure. The brilliant minds behind the project have incorporated a number of robotic weaving and spinning machines capable of moving in just about any direction. These machines can create composite parts in just about any shape.

Structural design using flexible composite fiber, assemblies for the Elytra Pavilion.
Source: Institute for Lightweight Structures and Conceptual Design

The pavilion's structural elements are being made by robotically spinning and weaving each section. The sections are impregnated with epoxy resin before curing. The finished components are attached on site with steel nuts and bolts. And for the record, the nuts and bolts are the only non-composite parts in the pavilion.

As for the cover going on top of the structural elements, it is made of a carbon fiber fabric. It is an ETFE polymer product that will protect those underneath from the elements. The cover also adds a bit of artistic flair just for good measure. Like the structural components, the cover is being made by robotic weaving machines.

NO SHAPE TOO ODD

We are amazed when we step back and look at what designers and architects are doing with composites these days. It's not an exaggeration to say that no shape is too odd to be considered. The fact is that we are no longer limited by the constraints of steel and aluminum. Thanks to 3D printing, robotic weaving, and other innovative fabricating technologies, we can create virtually any shape using carbon and glass fiber composites.

All of those futuristic buildings from sci-fi films couldn't have been built just 20 years ago. We can build them now, relying mostly on composite structural elements and facades. As such, architects are being inspired to design buildings, unlike anything humanity, has seen before. Structures like the pavilion in Germany are just the start.

STILL A PLACE FOR STEEL

We want to make it clear that architectural engineering via composite materials is not pushing steel out of the picture. There is still a place for steel in creating a building's skeleton. It's just that architects no longer have to rely on steel for the facade as well. They can design with steel at the core and an outward shell made of composites.

Such a marriage is one made in architectural heaven. It is the best of both worlds: the reliability, strength, and cost efficiency of steel alongside the architectural beauty composite fabricating offers. It is the stuff of architectural and engineering dreams. Moreover, it is the stuff making sci-fi dreams a reality.