Sheet Metal & Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association

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Robots allow A. Zahner to focus on art and craftsmanship

IMG_6340-2When Bill Zahner, CEO of SMACNA contractor A. Zahner Company, Kansas City, Mo., introduced the idea of bringing robots into the shop, it received a cool reception. Everything turned around, though, with the idea that adding robots could free skilled craftspersons to do more intricate work on large-scale projects. “If you do certain things faster, it enables the more artistic aspects to expand,” Mr. Zahner said. The first robot arrived in 2007.

Recently, Zahner’s ShopFloor® team was tasked with developing several methods for louvered perforations to create picotage, or patterned, effects for architectural metal. The process was initiated by Shokofeh Darbari, a Zahner engineering intern currently in the graduate architecture program at Pennsylvania State University. Together with Zahner design engineer Andrew Manto and Zahner engineering intern Perry May from the University of Kansas, the team worked out a method to set perforated tabs on louvered screen wall facades.IMG_4151

The process is promising because it can be customized for a variety of custom-sized spacings, depths, panel sizes, and thicknesses of metal. It also uses a machine which until now was primarily used for programmed welding. It is the second computer-controlled technology that Zahner has developed for pushing precut metal tabs. (The first uses a computer controlled mill, which is an in-demand tool for other processes at the Zahner shop.)

mockup-for-bloomberg-center-morphosis-cornell-nycSee how A. Zahner Co. does it in this Automated Punch System video.

Perforations let breezes in, keep bright sunlight out

In addition to its functional purpose of allowing airflow without harsh sunlight, the process also yields a dramatic lighting effect. By varying the angles of the perforated tabs, the designer achieves an optically brighter “pixel” than would occur with standard perforation. shokofeh-darbari-andrew-manto-perry-may

To create the new system, the team retrofitted a custom 3-D-printed “head” onto to the robot arm. The arm was then reprogrammed to apply pressure to the precut tabs, pushing each of the perforated tabs outward.

morphosis-architects-roosevelt-island-rendering-architecturalZahner will manufacture these panels for the Morphosis-designed Cornell Tech Bloomberg Center on Roosevelt Island in New York City. This use of custom-louvered architectural screen walls functions in much the same way that many of the larger-scaled projects that Morphosis has designed, such as Gates Hall in Ithaca, and the Emerson College in Los Angeles, both of which were completed using Zahner’s engineering, fabrication, and installers.

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