Digital Design and Fabrication Techniques Using a 3-Axis CNC Mill
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The objective of my research involves an investigation of the relationship between design and production through a case study fabrication project which utilize digital design software and manufacturing technologies, to achieve a better understanding of where formal, spatial, and material possibilities lie. This project focuses specifically on using CNC (Computer Numerical Control) fabrication techniques to produce three-dimensional forms with poly-urethane foam aimed at achieving certain surface effects and material sensations. Critical to understanding the potentials of digital fabrication is an understanding of its evolution to its current role in contemporary architecture. My methods consist of a qualitative approach to the evolution of digital design tools and manufacturing technologies. I have conducted a thorough literature review and will provide an overview of concepts surrounding the digital paradigm such as materiality, sensation and affect. Secondly, a fabrication project was completed from design to production using a three-axis CNC mill, our current machine at the Texas A & M Architecture Ranch. Three-axis CNC mills are typically used to create surface effects and not completely three-dimensional objects because of their inability to rotate out of the z-axis to make undercuts. We investigated different fabrication techniques that can be used to create completely three-dimensional forms with this machine and poly-urethane foam. Included in the fabrication process was extensive material research as to which additive materials were best able to increase the foam’s surface strength and smoothness and provide appropriate finishing to produce a liquid-like effect. A sectioning technique using cuts in both the horizontal and vertical direction was developed and can serve as an example of a possible means of fabricating large scale three-dimensional forms with a three-axis mill. We hope that this project will help encourage experimentation and research in the area of digital fabrication as contemporary architecture moves forward to a complex digital profession.
Coffman, Ky (2010). Digital Design and Fabrication Techniques Using a 3-Axis CNC Mill. Texas A&M University. Available electronically from