Advancing Construction Processes with Industry Collaboration
Pushing the boundaries of fabrication for construction through continued collaboration with Howick
With automation one of the leading topics among construction industry experts, applied exploration of new techniques is more relevant than ever. The Autodesk Technology Centers host a portfolio of fabrication equipment and design technology that support innovation across industries, and it’s this research into design and make that enables Autodesk to gain key insight into customer requirements for automation and more. We sat down with Joe Aronis, Manager, Autodesk Technology Centers Workshop, Boston, and Scott Mitchell, Outsight Network resident and founder of STUD-IO, to discuss the collaboration between Autodesk Research and Howick, a global leader in precision roll-forming. Joe and Scott share their perspectives on the Technology Centers as connectors and how Howick helps users leverage advanced construction techniques to meet the industry’s evolving needs.
As part of the Autodesk Research Technical Environments team in Boston, Joe (pictured right) works with a wide variety of machine manufacturers, Autodesk teams, and customers to explore what’s possible in the world of make. With a background as an electrical engineer, Joe is also a certified machine safety expert and robot programmer. He cites commitment to safety and continuous education as part of enabling his team’s success.
“In this facility, it’s actually a great opportunity to learn and develop. Such an important part of our role on the Technical Environments team is staying up to date on the latest technology. My team and I are constantly learning so we can be subject matter experts in the fields of subtractive and additive manufacturing and robotics, just to name a few.”
With this emphasis on experimentation and exploration using new construction methodologies, the Autodesk Technology Center in Boston was an ideal site for Howick’s equipment, which produces extendable framing components for interior walls and ceilings. In 2017, Howick was actually the first equipment manufacturer to place a piece of equipment in the Technology Center. Impressed by the results of this placement, Howick went on to upgrade the machine to the powerful Howick X-TENDA 3600 in 2020.
“They saw value in placing their machines in the hands of innovators and thought leaders trying to push industrialized and offsite construction. We’ve had a close relationship with them from the start. One of the first things we did to kick off the partnership was an internal training with both the Technical Environments team and Revit engineers,” says Joe.
Since its founding in 1978, Howick’s state-of-the-art roll forming technology has become known for its precision and reliability, which enables manufacturers to unlock new possibilities for customization. With the ability to produce consistent and accurate components, Howick supports the shift towards offsite manufacturing and modular construction techniques. This leads to faster project delivery, improved quality control, and reduced on-site disruptions.
“The Howick really enables prefab construction and offsite construction because you can quickly produce panels in a facility. With telescopic technology, you can produce panels, ship them to a construction site, get them up to the correct floor, then expand them in place,” explains Joe.
Howick is also challenging that automating construction means producing components in a factory environment, then transporting them to a site for assembly. Howick is working to reinvent this process by bringing the factory to the site with their metal framing equipment. Another key point is that this approach effectively allows you to “print” framing directly from software. In every construction project, a significant amount of metal framing is involved. By automating production, Howick provides a substantial advantage to building projects.
Howick’s technology presents the AEC industry with an accessible solution to advancing construction processes. By enabling precise and rapid production of building components with minimal waste, it streamlines the manufacturing process and reduces project timelines while supporting the shift towards off-site manufacturing and modular construction techniques. Moreover, Howick offers an open language control system and users are able to drive the machine right out of Revit through StrucSoft with a CSV file.
“What makes this combination so interesting is that you can design your buildings, drive the machine, and have a wall, panel, or truss within minutes,” explains Joe. “Additionally, Howick has always been great in leveraging the Technology Center space and the wider Autodesk community, in part by hosting events like STEEL HORIZONS.”
Scott Mitchell seconds this. He was introduced to the machine six years ago during an internship at Autodesk as part of the generative design team. Challenged with pushing the Howick’s capabilities as part of his intern project, Scott was thrilled to explore different ways to connect and use the machine’s standard operation capabilities.
“I love fabrication, writing software, and designing crazy things,” says Scott. “It was an ideal opportunity. We had some good ideas, some bad ideas, and some ideas that jammed up the machine, but at the end of that process we formulated a couple of ways of designing with the machine that were interesting.”
Interesting enough that Scott went on to join Autodesk as first a part-time contractor while finishing university, and then a software developer after graduation. His affinity with the Howick continued, with Scott spending his spare time prototyping and designing in the Technology Center. He founded STUD-IO four years ago after leaving Autodesk to pursue an offer to work on the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art.
With a growing team that includes a network of consultants, STUD-IO helps builders use Howick machines in ways that they never thought possible. Their typical client is a builder who is looking to achieve more with their machines. “That allows them to go after more types of work and make fewer compromises around design intent,” says Scott. “We’re enabling builders to build the architect’s fullest ideas. We recently started working with architects, too, because the earlier you get involved in the process, the more you can guide the design into something that’s going to be efficient to build.”
When asked what the most compelling aspect of working with the Howick, Scott referenced a chess analogy from his presentation at STEEL HORIZONS 2021 in London.
“I think on top of the precision and the mass customization, there’s some creativity that has to happen around creating strategic combinations. From there, the opportunities for customization really begin. It’s like any kind of game where only certain moves are available to you, like chess. It’s been studied for more than a millennia and people are still developing their own strategies, even though there’s not many ways to move pieces around the board individually.”
Scott reinforces that what’s interesting about collaborating with Howick is that it’s a way of working every builder is familiar with: steel studs. STUD-IO is just proposing an alternative approach to how you think about putting it together, which removes the barrier to entry. Currently based in the Technology Center in Boston but consulting on projects worldwide, Scott cites the expansive, spider-like entrance of the Fontainebleau Casino in Las Vegas, Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, and 10 Tables as part of Autodesk Design Nights as some of STUD-IO’s most memorable projects. And with the acceleration of generative AI, Scott anticipates even more fascinating projects ahead.
“That’s just the latest in a series of tools that it’s making it easier to design more freely. Things don’t just have to be boxes anymore. Or at least, it’s a lot easier to come up with designs that are more geometrically complex, plus there are good sustainability reasons. We know that there are energy optimization reasons to change the shape of the building, as well as marketability and material efficiency reasons to do that. If there’s demand for those types of buildings from owners and architects, how are we building them?”
In working alongside experts in the field, Howick and Autodesk aim to meet those demands and push the boundaries of fabrication, introducing groundbreaking solutions set to revolutionize the way we design, manufacture, and construct.
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