Origami Engineering

Origami, the Japanese art form that dates to the 17th century, creates unique patterns and shapes from paper folding. Today, origami inspires engineers to design active materials and smart structures that bend, stretch, and curve, overcoming traditional design constraints and rendering products and systems with remarkable performance characteristics and features.

Origami enables products with the ability to fold and then unfold on demand at any time thus;, it is expected to meet demands for various products and complex machinery across various industries. Engineers are conducting experiments on magneto-active elastomers to create such products as such materials have the ability to curve and rotate in the presence of a magnetic field. Another choice of materials is polymer synthetics compounds, as they have the ability to compress and stretch in the presence of voltage.

As researchers continue to experiment, some Origami-inspired designs are available commercially, especially in the Medical World. One such example is GE Healthcare, which gently collaborated with Brigham Young University to create a cover for the X-Ray machines used in operating rooms. The shroud, made of synthetic paper, expands and contracts like a musical accordion to shield the sterile field in the OR from the non-sterile environment of the extension arm. The design of the shroud was complex, and the team developed an adjustable shroud based on a crease pattern named Miura-ori to provide the needed motion and geometry to the arm. Below is the picture of the machine with the shroud.

Another application of Origami in Healthcare is in certain forceps and other instruments which enter the human body through small openings and unfold upon insertion. Research is underway to make this technique feasible for the insertion of Biomedical stents as well. Beyond the medical field, origami-inspired products include telescopes, protective covers for automobiles, sporting goods, kayaks, solar arrays, appliance drawers, and temporary shelters—a picture of an origami kayak manufactured by Oru Kayak.

In the area of sporting goods and apparel, industrial design students at BYU, in collaboration with the consumer products firm Tessel Supply, have designed an origami-based backpack. The unique features of the backpack are the triangular meshes that allow the bag to accommodate multiple articles within and reduce jostling of the contents, thus providing protection against damage. The backpack is aesthetically pleasing and provides comfort along with careful engineering.

With so many different products already in use and multiple more in the design phase and research, the future of origami engineering looks bright.

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