Robotic Needle Felting explores the development of an additive manufacturing technique for nonwoven textiles. Nonwoven textiles, such as felt, can be natural materials (wool), synthetic polymers (polyester), or blends of the two. These textiles have numerous performative aspects for architectural applications including excellent acoustic absorption, thermal insulation, and tactile characteristics. The nonwoven textiles can be manipulated by a process called needle felting - whereby barbed needles, when punching through layers of material, entangle the fibers together making it a heterogeneous material. This process binds the material together seamlessly without the addition of sewn thread or toxic adhesives, making this technique a more environmentally friendly process.
Needle felting can range in scale from handcraft techniques with a single needle to large scale web processing. Integration into a robotic process not only enables precision and speed in manufacturing but also extends needle felting as a three-dimensional process, especially for surfaces with complex geometries. Through a customized digital workflow, formal and material properties can be varied at local level within a component.
The project involves three areas of development; the tooling for robotic felting, the digital workflow that enables the formal and material properties to be specified computationally and embedded into the machine code, and prototypes of architectural elements such as acoustic panels and furniture demonstrating different techniques and processes. Our prototypes explore three techniques resulting in different textures that we are simply calling quilting, shiplap, and shingle. For these techniques, different layers of material could be felted together onto a foam substrate as an integrated process. Additionally, an automatic tape feed enables us to develop both shiplap and shingle textures with unique patterns and varying overlap. With Robtoic Needle Felting innovation, a wide range of potentials is opened up for design and manufacturing of acoustic panels with nonwoven materials.
Robotic Needle Felting was generously supported by Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning, University of Michigan as part of Research Through Making 2018 Initiative.
Project team: Tsz Yan Ng, Wes McGee, Asa Peller; Research Assistant: Rachel Henry; Production Assistants: Jared Monce, Drew Bradford, Carlos Pompeo; Photography: Tsz Yan Ng
Credits: - Production Assistant - Jared Monce - Production Assistant - Drew Bradford - Research Assistant - Rachel Henry - Project team - Wes McGee - Project team - Tsz Yan Ng - Production Assistant - Carlos Pompeo - Project team - Asa Peller - Photography - Tsz Yan Ng