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Launched in 2013, the Pier 9 facility in San Francisco is a state of the art workshop designed to provide top engineers, designers and innovators with a creative environment within which to develop their innovations. The space was conceptualised by Autodesk as a place for designers to work on non-traditional inventions and help keep the industry fresh and innovative.

Acceptance into Pier 9 is highly sought after. Students from across the globe and various disciplines, apply by submitting their work for review. Only the ‘crème de la crème’ are invited to share workspace for the year ahead. Key selection criteria includes how their project will impact the societies and industries they work in.

The nature of Pier 9 means that many creatives are sharing space, and ideas. The inter-disciplinary nature of this work creates fantastic collaborations and drives innovation at an exciting pace.

The Artists in Residence Programme currently features more than 70 pieces of work from fine artists, digital fabricators, architects and, furniture makers among other creatives who have passed through Pier 9’s residency programme over the years. This programme enables students to use some of the world’s most cutting edge technology at no cost to them, which is in line with Autodesk’s vision to keep the industry fresh.

Some of the goals of Pier 9 include facilitating and improving productivity through speed and cost effectiveness, enabling business and start-ups through design and creating accessible design solutions.

In September, Chris Allen, Lecturer in the Department of Construction Management at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) and BIM education specialist, was invited by Autodesk to visit Pier 9 and learn more about the innovations and technology at play there.

As a virtual design and construction specialist, Chris was keen to see more of the tools and technologies that may fundamentally change our design and construction industries in the future. In his role, Chris is heavily involved in research at NMMU, much of which is specifically concerned with identifying innovative technology for implementation into the construction industry within the next ten years’.

“I’ve never seen work made like this before. Here, we have modern technology converting ideas into reality, all of which is probably 10 years ahead of industry in South Africa.”

Pier 9 consists of eight areas. Each area boasts the most advanced tools and techniques, to enable the residents to explore highly innovative, ‘neverbefore’ solutions and ultimately contribute to their industry or discipline in a meaningful way. Please see reverse for the 8 Areas.

From Allen’s perspective, the overarching take-out from Pier 9 was to see cutting edge technology that was not just theoretical. “It clearly shows us how and where technology is integrating into every part of design, and how we’re moving from a design environment to a product environment.” Pier 9 shows that Autodesk delivers solutions from design concept through to fabricated parts.

Pier 9 is all about agility, analytics and accessibility. The cutting-edge tools and techniques present opportunities for designers to be agile in a way they haven’t before. “This shows us there is more to do than just the software and will relate to the end-product.” And from the perspective of analytics, the Pier 9 initiative shows us how we can use data to improve processes hence linkage to actual object.

Accessibility means opportunity, specifically for South Africa. The country has a lot of talent but when you consider the technology being utilized at Pier 9 there are great opportunities for future small businesses to be able to produce high quality goods without having specific manufacturing expertise. Equally, 3D printers can open-up a whole new market to individuals, giving the ability to create parts a lot cheaper and easier. With the ultimate impact being that South Africa could keep good talent at home.

While Pier 9 is a unique space, much of the tools and technologies are available through Autodesk’s development of online applications that that people can use. In this way, Autodesk’s Pier 9 initiative ensures that design and creation at this level of cutting edge technology remains truly accessible.



3D Print shop: Featuring a selection of rapid prototype tools, the Pier 9 print shop creates the tangible link between design and creation. Cutting edge tools such as 3D Scanners, Industrial 3D printers such as the Roland Versacamm Wide Format printer and cutter, as well as Laser cutters such as the Coherent Metabeam Laser cutter, all provide the creative residents with the scale and finesse to deliver their cutting-edge innovations and projects.

“The 3D print shop was especially interesting for me,” says Allen. “The possibility to simply export the detailed design out of a 3D design environment to create a mock-up which could be mass produced or, to manufacture one-off designs is fantastically exciting. But it is the speed of the process that is the big benefit here; traditional processes could take months but this technology coupled with the seamless linkage to the software could bring this timeline down to a matter of days.”


Metal Shop: The Pier 9 metal shop supports cutting, welding, shaping and finishing of various metals such as steel and aluminum. Tools such as the Doall Vertical band saw, a Pneumatic Bender and brake and, a Scotchman Coldsaw all help provide the artists and creators with new forms of creation.

“The work underway in the metal shop poses incredible opportunities for a number of South African industries, especially the motor industry,” says Allen. “Considering the role Original Equipment Manufacturer’s play in South Africa, technologies as seen in the metal shop could open vast opportunities to improve production efficiencies in the future.”


Test Kitchen: Outfitted with the latest grade appliances, the Test Kitchen provides residents with the tools to bake, make or fry anything. The inclusion of a test kitchen at Pier 9 demonstrates that every aspect of lifestyle today is factored into the creations at Pier 9.


Walkway: Connects the 3D print shop with the textiles shop and provides a bird’s eye view of the CNC shop.


Textiles Shop: The textiles shop hosts industrial sewing and surging machines, craft supplies, professional mannequins and a photography station.

During his visit, Allen noted the way the tools were being used and the potential parallels for the architecture and construction industries. “In the textiles shop, residents were using the tools such as Fusion 360 which is a laser, programmed to cut at different depths into the fabric, thereby stripping layers of material away and ultimately changing its structure. As a virtual designer and construction specialist, this conjured up an interesting dynamic for the construction industry; in the future, we may be able to cut into layers of any material which could fundamentally change our design and production processes.”


Wood Shop: The machines and tools in the Pier 9 Wood Shop support everything from traditional woodworking to fine finishing, basic carpentry to mixed media projects. Tools and equipment in use in the Pier 9 Wood shop include Festool Kapex Sliding Compound Mitre saw, a Martin Planer and Joiner, a Jessum Router table and a Sawstop industrial Cabinet.

According to Allen, the use of traditional materials in non-traditional means was possibly the most striking aspect of the Wood Shop. “I personally work with wood a lot and know the challenges of the medium so the use of computer controlled cutting tools including a laser to create very intricate shapes in the material was very interesting.

As a built environment practitioner, we are always looking for bespoke items that can be produced more easily and with less human input to speed up the process, thereby reducing the cost, and these tools enable that.”

At the time of his visit, Allen observed a chair being cut with a number of large radius curves, and pieces connecting together to create the end product. This was of particular interest, not only in terms of the bespoke nature of the chair, but the ability to flat pack the pieces for easy shipping say from an online retailer. In addition, the wood in use was a laminate so much lighter than solid material and using recycled material so more sustainable.


CNC Shop: The Pier 9 CNC machine shop houses a collection of production-level CNC equipment that gives users the opportunity to push the limits of our software and hardware through digital fabrication projects. Tools available in the CNC Shop include Omax Waterjet, DMS 5-Axis Enclosed Router and, a Mori Seiki Integrated Mill-Turn Centre, as well as a Hathe Lithe and a Hathe Vertical Mill.

Allen described the state of the art 3D cutting machines in the CNC shop as a highlight during his visit. “The complexity of the machines and level of automation of the process were truly cuttingedge. I am particularly interested in ways to make construction activities more efficient through the way technology can be used to create more offsite prefabricated objects. In this regard, what was demonstrated in the CNC shop highlighted the seamless link from design software directly into the cutting machines.”


Electronics Lab: The Electronics Lab features electronic equipment and components to enable shop users to design and develop projects that include robotics, lighting and acoustic effects, gaming hardware, and other automation elements. Tools include Instek digital storage Oscilloscope, a BK precision programmable Function Generator and a Mastek triple Linear DC Power supply.