Simplifying the Idea of Architectural Production

A versatile set of traits have tried to define human beings over the years, and yet none have done a better job than our tendency to grow on a consistent basis. This willingness to pursue improvement, under all circumstances, has brought the world some huge milestones, with technology emerging as quite a major member of the group. The reason why we hold technology in such a high regard is, by and large, predicated upon its skill-set, which guided us towards a reality that nobody could have ever imagined otherwise. Nevertheless, if we look beyond the surface for a second, it will become clear how the whole runner was also very much inspired from the way we applied those skills across a real world environment. The latter component, in fact, did a lot to give the creation a spectrum-wide presence, and as a result, initiate a full-blown tech revolution. Of course, this revolution eventually went on to scale up the human experience through some outright unique avenues, but even after achieving a feat so notable, technology will somehow continue to bring forth the right goods. The same has turned more and more evident in recent times, and assuming one new discovery ends up with the desired impact, it will only put that trend on a higher pedestal moving forward.

The researching team at Massachusetts Institute of Technology has successfully developed a high-performance architected material known as a plate lattice to create these structures from metal or other materials with custom shapes and specifically tailored mechanical properties. Developed on a much larger scale than any previous experiment managed to explore, the team used kirigami, an ancient Japanese art of folding and cutting paper, to achieve the stated objective. Before they got there, though, the researchers conceived a modular construction process in which many smaller components are formed, folded, and assembled into 3D shapes. This process would be huge help when it comes to fabricating ultra-light and ultra-strong structures and robots that, under a specified load, can seamlessly morph into the desired form, while simultaneously holding their shape throughout the operation. Now, considering these structures are lightweight but strong, stiff, and relatively easy to mass-produce at larger scales, they come decked up with enormous use cases for various disciplines, such as architectural, airplane, automotive, or aerospace components. However, in order to understand the said development on a deeper level, we also need to dedicate some attention towards what these plate lattices are in their nature. Basically, they are cellular structures made from three-dimensional intersections of plates rather than beams. These high-performance structures are even stronger and stiffer than truss lattices, but at the same time, their complex shape makes them downright difficult to fabricate at scale through common techniques like 3D printing. Fortunately enough, the researchers overcome all the laid out challenges through Krigami. You see, they modified a common origami crease pattern, known as a Miura-ori pattern. The rationale behind such a move was to make sure that the sharp points of the corrugated structure are transformed into facets, facets that, in turn, provide flat surfaces to which the plates can be attached more easily with bolts or rivets.

“Plate lattices outperform beam lattices in strength and stiffness while maintaining the same weight and internal structure,” said Parra Rubio, a research assistant in the CBA, “Reaching the H-S upper bound for theoretical stiffness and strength has been demonstrated through nanoscale production using two-photon lithography. Plate lattices construction has been so difficult that there has been little research on the macro scale. We think folding is a path to easier utilization of this type of plate structure made from metals.”

Another detail worth a mention here would be the system customization potential. Going by the available details, the researchers opted for an approach where they designed, folded, and cut the pattern in a manner that they could tune certain mechanical properties, such as stiffness, strength, and flexural modulus, as per their preferences.

But what did the researchers do to achieve an unprecedented scale around this technology? Well, they introduced a modular assembly process to give themselves a medium to mass produce small patterns and assemble them into ultralight and ultra-strong 3D structures. As small patterns tend to have fewer creases, the whole manufacturing process was suddenly a lot simpler.

Armed with its latest brainchild, the researching team tested the technology by producing aluminum structures boasting compression strength of more than 62 kilonewtons, but a weight of only 90 kilograms per square meter. The following observation of the same would reveal these structures were strong enough to withstand three times as much force as a typical aluminum corrugation.

For the immediate future, though, the plan is to develop user-friendly CAD design tools for these kirigami plate lattice structures, and make them easier to model. Apart from that, the team hopes to explore newer methods to reduce the computational costs of simulating a design that can deliver desired properties at a big scale.

“Kirigami corrugations holds exciting potential for architectural construction,” said James Coleman MArch ’14, SM ’14, co-founder of the design for fabrication and installation firm SumPoint, and former vice president for innovation and R&D at Zahner. “In my experience producing complex architectural projects, current methods for constructing large-scale curved and doubly curved elements are material intensive and wasteful, and thus deemed impractical for most projects. While the authors’ technology offers novel solutions to the aerospace and automotive industries, I believe their cell-based method can also significantly impact the built environment.

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