Centre of Applied Research Technology

Robot Lab propels circularity in the hospitality industry

'This project can have a great impact and help propel the circular economy’

11 Dec 2023 11:14 | Centre for Applied Research Technology

As often as every 7 years, an average hospitality business renovates its interior. This high turnover is mainly done using new materials. Can that be done differently? That question was the focus of the seminar Reused Wood Applications for Hospitality.

On a sunny afternoon in late November, a group of 25 people gathered at the Robot Lab of the AUAS. The Robot Lab is home to the Digital Production Research Group (DPRG), which investigates how materials such as waste and residual wood can be given a second life, by means of digital design and robotic production. Here, researchers work closely not only with students but also with partner companies, so that solutions can land directly in practice.

Present in the gathering are companies from a variety of sectors, potentially connected in a future value chain: companies in the wood industry, designers and hotels. Together with the Digital Production Research Group, they are working on the goals of the Circular Wood 4.0 project: to investigate the impact and viability of using residual wood and to create meaningful applications for the hospitality industry. At present, this wood is often burned or downcycled into particle board, because reusing it in large volumes is too complex and labor intensive. Yet by deploying a smart upcycle wood factory, in which computational design and robotic production are fully integrated, reuse may well become a viable option.

Circular wood for hospitality industry

Once everyone has found a seat, Marta Malé-Alemany welcomes today’s attendees. She is the head of the Robot Lab and project leader of Circular Wood 4.0. Today she explains how this project builds on knowledge and results from previous projects. In 2020, for example, the Digital Production Research Group made a unique reception desk from residual wood for the Johan Cruyff Arena. The design was made of more than 300 parts of left-over hardwood from Amsterdamse Fijnhout, previously digitized in a database. In that project, making use of the available material was the critical starting point: the desk was created with a ’design from availability’ approach. ‘This desk made clearly visible the added value of digital production for scaling up circular applications' says Malé-Alemany.

In Circular Wood 4.0, the knowledge acquired along this years is applied to the hospitality sector. 'Because hospitality businesses replace their interiors so often, there is much to be gained from creating valuable applications from residual wood,' says Malé-Alemany. 'Moreover, it is a leading sector in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area, so our research can have a great impact and help propel the circular economy. In the project, we also analyze the business case, to make sure the plans are feasible,' adds Tony Schoen, project manager of Circular Wood 4.0.

Designing with residual wood

Additionally, Timo Bega, a designer and researcher at the Robot Lab, gives another presentation. For Circular Wood 4.0, he is exploring ways to reuse left-over pieces from Derako, a solid wood manufacturing company associated to the project. Bega shows two design approaches in which this residual wood can be machined to fit together as wall or ceiling system. Then he shows how existing designs for bars and restaurants (from partner Heineken Interior Design) might look like if these systems had been in place. 'Now it's a matter of starting to see, with the help of partners in the room, how we can apply what we have developed,' he concludes.

Wood as a trend

During the presentation by Thijs Koster of the Green Hotel Club foundation, the challenges for the hotel industry are discussed. Green Hotel Club is committed to creating future-proof and sustainable hospitality businesses. Koster emphasizes the difficulty of creating circular interiors from residual wood on a large scale, because many large hotel chains focus primarily on the business case.

In addition, he is curious to hear from designers in the room if wood is too trend-sensitive to be used long term. Doesn't it go out of fashion at some point? ‘To avoid that, it would be good to design some classic wooden furniture pieces that can last for a long time,’ suggests one of the architects in the room. Someone else suggests that the reuse of residual wood could be applied mainly in the construction of buildings, such as in window frames and doors. Not only does this avoid trendiness, it could simplify the application of robots as they produce the same design all the time.

Deviating forms

Also speaking is Marije Remigius of interior building company Fiction Factory. She tells how they created an interior design with circular materials, including wood, for Hotel Jansen in Amsterdam's Bajeskwartier. The most important lesson she wants to pass along today is: ‘Less is more. If you are working with large numbers, such as 200 bedrooms, try to use as little material as possible. How to achieve this? Be creative in design and engineering. Use the material scraps for the furniture in the rooms, for example.'

Tour of the Robot Lab

The afternoon ends with a tour of the Robot Lab. There, students from the Robotic Production & Circular Materials minor are working on a special project for the AUAS's Faculty of Technology: a Christmas tree made of residual wood. The tree not only shows the design opportunities of discarded wood, but also serves as inspiration towards a more sustainable world, where we can opt for better alternatives to plastic or real Christmas trees. Perhaps an idea for the hospitality interior of the future?

About DPRG

The Digital Production Research Group is part of the Centre of Expertise City Net Zero. Circular Wood 4.0 is a key research project in the the Robot Lab, which is now focused on wood and the circular transition in a number of other projects (including the EU Horizon project WoodCircles). Circular Wood 4.0 is funded by the RAAK-MKB program of SIA-Regieorgaan.