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This research develops a computational design strategy and manufacturing technique for a curved steel beam using interlocking connections. Although there have been developments in industrial robotic setups to automate steel beam bending, these processes rely on an iterative approach and are time-consuming and costly when there is a need for high accuracy. A shift from bending a whole section to 2D steel laser cutting and bending during assembly simplifies the fabrication processes, as well as reduces the weight of the structure.
This work presents a novel methodology to create a digitally controlled three-dimensionally bent beam that is elastically pulled into position from discrete laser-cut sheets. Through geometric modeling, the surfaces of the double curved beam are generated by defining the stiffener’s geometry and axial curve. The plates unroll into a 2D configuration. The interlocking connection details applied to edges and surfaces are based on graph connectivity. Finite Elements (FEM) form-finding was used to achieve geometric accuracy by pulling flat plates into their 3D position using contracting cable elements. Structural analysis and optimization are also performed to evaluate the residual stress under external loads to reduce the thickness of individual plates. The steel physical prototyping demonstrates geometric accuracy and laser-cut tolerance. The uniaxial tensile tests highlight the impact of welding on structural performance at the interlocking connection.