Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Folded Plate Technology at Maker Faire

"When the Paper Folds, The Mind Folds." -Jean Piaget

I've been wanting to see this technology in the sheet metal "flesh" for sometime.  Many of the more complex folded plate forms one would like to generate from computer models are actually quite tricky to implement in reality.  In architecture school, teachers say the two kinds of descriptive geometric drawings one can execute to illustrate an object are the perspective and the orthographic projection.  At the time I heard this, three dimensional computer modeling was just starting to take off.  The idea of "unwrapping" an object was becoming an intriguing way to represent an object.  Unlike other representations of a three dimensional object on a flat paper, the unwrapped object told the whole story and if you had an Xacto knife and some tape you were tempted to make the object.  If you just connected the shared edges, you would in theory, create the object.

Easier said than done.

Figure 1

It is one thing to layout the form theoretically, as shown against the green background in Figure 1 (an early study I did for a table back in the 90's), it is another to assemble it.  If you try to use a single piece of sheet metal the shape can become deformed as you approach completion.  It is also an unwieldy way to work.  Anyone who has ever done a sophisticated origami model knows this all too well.  The key to this problem is to create play in the joints and improve workability.  The model of the elephant employed a couple methods to avoid this problem.  The sheet metal was perforated at the seam locations to insure that the fold would occur right where it was intended.  Other joints were accomplished with rivets to accommodate some flexibility at the joints and presumably compensate for a certain small degree of error.  Also, the model was assembled with multiple parts to insure that workability was not impossible.

I still haven't taken a stab at a piece of furniture or a house using a CNC method but this little model of an elephant let me know that the approach is not impossible.  An exciting time to be working with that technology.

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