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How a Team of University Students Digitally Fabricated a Structure in Just Six Weeks Using ArchiStar Academy

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How a Team of University Students Digitally Fabricated a Structure in Just Six Weeks Using ArchiStar Academy

As technology advances, so too do the techniques you use to create and fabricate designs. This presents challenges to universities. How can a university keep pace with the changing tides of the industry?

Take a moment to consider the various technologies that have changed the industry in recent years.

Over the last decade, we’ve seen massive advances in digital design software. Moreover, virtual reality and augmented reality have carved out bigger niches for themselves. 3D printing is now much more affordable for use with prototyping. Plus, the Building Information Modelling methodology has taken hold.

That’s a lot of change in a very short period of time.

Universities have had to adapt to these changes. They can no longer get by just by teaching the essentials of design. They need to prepare their students for the industry that awaits them.

That’s something that we have noticed at many Universities. Often staff have varying levels of skill with different digital design software packages. This issue alone often placed limits on what they could teach. After all, a lecturer who doesn’t understand a digital design software package can’t teach others to use it.

A desire to teach design over software compounds this issue. Plus, it’s hard for universities to find the right people for the job.

These issues combine with an increasing workload for students, which makes it difficult to keep track of progress.

The end result?

Students leave University without learning everything that they need to know to succeed in the industry.

That’s why we came up with the idea of ArchiStar Academy. ArchiStar Academy helps lecturers to teach important skills quickly. It also helps them to keep track of student progression.

Of course, the proof is in the pudding, as the saying goes. Here’s an example of what ArchiStar Academy helped a group of students to achieve in just six weeks.

Case Study – RMIT University

The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) has over a century of history behind it. Founded in 1887 as Working Men’s College, it’s changed a lot in the years that followed. The university has embraced constant changes in educational methods and technology. But it has never lost sight of the principles that it's held since its formation.

RMIT is now one of Australia’s most prestigious learning institutions. Each year, the university helps many young architects learn their trade. It offers several design courses to equip people with these skills.

It was with one of these courses that RMIT worked with ArchiStar Academy.

The Challenge

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RMIT maintains its Masters in Design Innovation & Technology (MDIT) studio to teach design to students. The quality of this studio has allowed RMIT to become a global leader in architectural teaching. It currently holds a top 50 worldwide ranking for the quality of its architecture courses.

Naturally, maintaining this reputation is of paramount importance to the university. That’s why it regularly creates projects that help its students to showcase their digital design skills.

One such challenge was its Structural Orchestra project.

Students were to use Echopanel as a material for building installations. The aim was to investigate the issues surrounding acoustic attenuation in space.

It’s a heady task for even experienced students. But the project added an extra challenge. The students had just six weeks to create their designs. Moreover, they had to fabricate part, or all, of their designs at full scale.

This means that the students couldn’t spend all six weeks learning about digital design software. They needed a fast track learning platform that helped them progress rapidly.

That’s where ArchiStar Academy helped.

The Solution

The university signed up to ArchiStar Academy’s Campus subscription. This gave students access to a wealth of educational materials. They could research the digital design software packages that they needed to use. Moreover, they had access to detailed courses that helped them to develop their skills quickly. In a matter of weeks, the students became competent enough to create their designs.

That’s not all that ArchiStar Academy had to offer. With the subscription came access to the platform’s Expert Chat feature. This allows students to ask questions of an ArchiStar Academy expert. The key benefit to this is that it saves lots of time for the lecturer. While the studio’s lecturer handled the big picture, ArchiStar Academy’s experts helped with the specifics. Any question about a digital design software package can get answered quickly.

As RMIT’s Chen Canhui puts it: “With the Expert chat feature, we no longer have to answer repetitive questions. We can now focus on helping students with more advanced topics.”

With ArchiStar Academy, the students got to grips with the basics quickly. They also had experts at hand to guide them through the intricacies of their digital design software. Lecturers like Chen Canhui could then place their focus elsewhere. They could guide students through the advanced aspects of the Structural Orchestra project. ArchiStar Academy handled the basic knowledge needed.

The Final Result

Chen Canhui comments directly on the results that ArchiStar Academy helped RMIT achieve.

“We have been using the ArchiStar Academy training platform this year and we are delighted with the results our students are achieving.

Students were able to produce 1:1 wall structures in a short six week Digital Fabrication intensive course.”

ArchiStar Academy helped students to understand the complexities of their digital design software. It also provided an in-depth learning platform that students always had access to. Instead of having to constantly rely on their lecturers, students took control of their own learning. In the process, they allowed their lecturers to focus on the bigger picture.

The end result was an array of interesting structures. You can see some of the most interesting examples on the ArchiStar Academy website.

What Did the Students Learn?

ArchiStar Academy predominantly provided digital design software training to RMIT’s students. But the students also learned valuable lessons about fabrication during this six-week studio. In particular, they learned about the intricacies of fabricating pieces for their models.

ArchiStar Academy spoke with some of those who took part in the studio. They provided us with a handy list of tips for other students who want to follow in their footsteps.

Tip #1 – Create Space Between Model Pieces

You’ll use your digital design software to create every model piece for your fabrication. Many students choose to place multiple pieces in the same file. That’s a good idea because it saves space and makes the pieces easier to keep track of. You can put different pieces on different layers, while still keeping them all together.

But there’s a minor problem that you may encounter using this technique.

Many students place their designed pieces in very close proximity to each other. In some cases, the pieces may even touch. They do this under the mistaken impression that laser cutters can distinguish between the different pieces.

Unfortunately, you can’t rely on that degree of accuracy. What may look obvious in your digital design software isn’t always so when you start cutting. Leaving no space between pieces leads to misinterpretations that cause a machine to cut the pieces incorrectly.

Our students offer a simple solution for this problem. You can still place several pieces on the same file. But leave at least 2mm of space between the edges of each piece. This highlights a separation of the pieces, which allows the laser cutter to do its job properly. Moreover, it makes your designs clearer, which makes adjustments easier.

Tip #2 – Account for the Material

Using your digital design software to create space between model pieces isn’t your only concern. You have to consider the material that you’re using for the fabrication too. Each material has different properties and thicknesses. Each of these has an effect on the accuracy of your cutting.

This means that you shouldn’t just design with separation in mind. You also need to cut with the same philosophy.

Provide an adequate amount of space around each of your laser cut pieces. This accounts for the thickness of the material that you’re using.

This pays dividends when you assemble your model. Failure to account for material thickness leads to errors in your pieces that can delay your project.

Tip #3 – Design a Complete Model First

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You may feel tempted to only design part of your model in your digital design software before you start cutting. The logic is that you can design a couple of pieces and cut them before moving onto the next set.

Unfortunately, this method rarely works. Designing in stages means you never confirm that the pieces fit together. You may end up completing your cutting, only to find that the wrong thicknesses cause issues. That means you have to go back to the start to figure out the issues. Moreover, you don’t have a complete model to work from. Instead, you have to check through a bunch of individual files in an effort to locate the problem.

RMIT’s students recommend building a complete model before moving onto cutting. Test the pieces and their thicknesses to ensure everything meshes together as intended. With that confirmation, you can feel more comfortable in your design. This also cuts down on the amount of reworking needed for the model.

Tip #4 – Carry Out a Test Cut

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You may feel certain in the quality of your piece designs. Your digital design software shows that they all fit together and you’re ready to go.

You transfer the file to your laser cutter. But there’s a problem. The cutter doesn’t cut as you expect it to. Your pieces don’t have the expected thickness, or the cutter simply doesn’t cut all of the way through.

More often than not, this is an issue with the machine. You may not have supplied enough power to complete the cut. Or, you may supply so much that the cut goes wrong.

This isn’t something that your digital design software can tell you about. Moreover, getting the power wrong leads to wasted materials. That’s something you’ll want to avoid when you’re working in the industry. Efficiency is a crucial part of today’s architecture and engineering sectors.

There’s a simple solution to this issue. Carry out a test first. Take a small piece of your material and conduct a basic cut. You’re checking to ensure you’ve chosen the right power levels and that there aren’t any calibration issues.

With all of that confirmed, you can proceed to cutting your pieces.

As a side note, your cutter may have a red dot functionality. This allows it to project a red dot onto the area that it intends to cut. Try turning the laser off and running the “cut” with just the red dot. Watch the pattern that it cuts to ensure it’s following the intended path. Again, this adds a little more certainty to your cutting.

The Final Word

Without the right digital design skills, the RMIT students would have struggled to complete their project. The short timeframe that they had compounded their issues. They needed to develop proficiency in the software packages that they used. Moreover, they had to learn how to apply what they’d learned on a practical level.

ArchiStar Academy helped them to do this. The platform provided them with the tools needed to come to grips with the software that they used. Moreover, the Support Chat feature helped them to get quick answers to questions. As a result, they could focus more of their in-house lecture time on fabrication. This allowed them some room for error with their cutting. The time saved using ArchiStar Academy meant more time for learning elsewhere. This led to them learning the valuable lessons that this article compiles into the above tips.

In just six weeks, each student created a complex model using fabricated pieces.

Your students can do the same. ArchiStar Academy can help you to fill in the gaps in your educational offering. It also provides resources to students so that lecturers can focus on the most crucial topics during workshops. With ArchiStar Academy, you achieve faster learning outcomes, which benefit both students and universities.

Now, all that you need to do is to get started. Contact an ArchiStar Academy representative today to discuss our packages. With our help, your students can achieve the same results as those at RMIT.

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Posted on 20 Jan 2020

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