The factory and the exhibition space – ordinarily, these two project types would lie worlds apart for an architect. With one, functionality and cost-efficiency reign; with the other, the highest demands are placed on design and quality of execution. A new presentation and sales center for the German machine tool and laser manufacturer TRUMPF near Chicago combines both worlds and turns high-tech machines and innovative production processes into exhibition-like showpieces. Here, an Industry 4.0 demonstration factory fitted with digitally networked machines presents the entire sheet metal process chain, from ordering a sheet metal part to its design, production and delivery, experienced as an intelligently interlinked, holistic process.
Choosing a location for the new “Smart Factory” largely centered around a consideration of infrastructural conditions: the site is prominently located on Interstate 90 near Chicago O’Hare International Airport. Thus, it is easily accessible internationally as well as regionally, the center of the sheet metal processing industry in North America. Against the backdrop of the surrounding industrial zones, its immediate setting appears almost idyllic: organized into two large volumes, the building gently slopes back towards a large retention pond, a reservoir within the wetlands surrounded by lawns crossed with cycling and footpaths.
The architecture also surprises: with a robust and elegant steel-glass construction with Corten steel cladding, it connects the suburban “strip” – characterized by fast food culture, shopping centers and gas stations – with the design language of local campus and industrial buildings by Albert Kahn and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Here, the history of the “Rust Belt” as the oldest and largest industrial region in the USA is brought together with computer-controlled high-tech production; functionality meets representation, and pragmatism meets refinement. In the process, the building focuses on maintaining a high degree of quality down to the last detail of construction.
The structure’s two volumes – the showroom to the south, and the Smart Factory ‘s office and auditorium space to the north – are connected at their corners and create two rectangular exterior zones: on the southeast, a spacious driveway with parking approaches the main entrance; towards the northwest, the large, curved terrace of the café overlooks the adjacent retention pond. With a height ranging from 4,5 to about 13 m, the building integrates itself into its environment, a natural grassland with loose groupings of trees. Via its continuous pitched roof, it rises like a wedge towards the highway, where the showroom’s 12-meter-high billboard-like glass front presents itself to passing tra c.
Eleven steel Vierendeel trusses, approximately 45 m long with a maximum effective height of 3,6 m, span the showroom. Customized from welded variable parts laser-cut on TRUMPF machines and weighing over 17 tons, these beams function as a further “exhibit” showcasing the company’s manufacturing machinery as well as its know-how.
These tools and their various functions are presented on the ground level as a physically and digitally networked production line. Based on actual orders, the entire process chain of complex sheet metal components can be demonstrated as a whole displaying its material and information flow. Visitors are given a special overview of the facilities via an open “skywalk”, a bridge that runs through the trusses of the ceiling structure at a height of 6,50 m, thus enabling one to perceive the laser-cut filigree “structure as space”. The skywalk consists of grated flooring and enclosed by glass guard rails, shaping pocket-like showcases for special exhibits along the sides. It connects to the “Control Center” that flanks the open showroom towards the east. Here visitors are presented with real-time production line performance figures via large displays. Adjoining conference rooms provide further possibilities for presentations on the technologies being deployed.
The lower volume, set back on the building’s quieter north side, is functionally linked to the showroom via public zones like the lobby, the water-facing café and a large auditorium. In addition, it contains an open-plan office and various meeting rooms for the employees. All rooms are arranged around a central courtyard planted with maple and gingko trees and are flexibly designed to adapt to changing requirements. The building configuration allows for possible expansion to the north and west as necessary.
The building’s exterior, with its rough cladding of deep rust-colored corrugated Corten steel sheeting and its elegant, floor-to-ceiling glazing, emphasizes both its industrial context and its representative function. Made of black anodized aluminum, the glass façades are recessed up to 1,50 m back into the building volume. They are vertically divided by slim, recessed Corten steel columns in the form of I-Beams to support against horizontal wind loads. The double glazing used has a low-E coating to aid in protecting against excessive solar radiation. In addition to Corten steel and glass, charred- wood vertical siding was employed in the office building towards the inner courtyard and pond, a homogeneous atmosphere giving the facades a slightly softer appearance.
Inside the building, the charred wood is applied as ceiling-high wall paneling. Here, raw, industrial materials with re ned surfaces establish a warm, almost homey atmosphere. The construction of black steel, polished concrete floors, expanded metal mesh panels and charred wood walls characterize spaces where industrial production and exhibition are coherently integrated. A hanging sculptural lighting element is suspended over the lobby showing TRUMPF’s fabrication capabilities further.