How the Future of Origami Engineering is Unfolding (Op-Ed)

By:Prayag nao

Origami, the Japanese art form that dates at least to the 17th century, creates unique patterns and shapes from paper folding. Today, origami is inspiring 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.
Perhaps the most ubiquitous example is the amazingly compact automobile airbag, though origami-inspired engineering is also making commercial inroads in the energy, apparel and healthcare industries. Reflecting emerging interest in the field, the U.S. National Science Foundation funded eight U.S. universities to advance origami engineering into the realm of reconfigurable, smart, structures and self-assembling systems.


Medical marvels

As researchers continue to create new structures that stand up to practical use, some companies have placed origami-inspired designs into the commercial marketplace, realizing the benefits of products and systems with unique folding capabilities.
GE Healthcare recently collaborated with Brigham Young University (BYU) on a cover for the extension arm of an X-ray machine used in hospital operating rooms. The shroud 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 shroud is made of Tyvek®, a type of synthetic paper produced by DuPont. GE required a design improvement over the plastic drapes commonly used to shroud the moveable C-arm; the drapes needed to be replaced every time the device rotated in and out of the sterile field, adding time as well as cost to surgical procedures.
"GE needed a design for the shroud that maintained the sterile field during all movements and positions of the extension arm," said Larry Howell, a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at BYU, also a recipient of one of the NSF grants. "After several concepts were evaluated and tested, an origami-based design was selected."
Origmi-inspired x-ray cover
The white cover for the extension arm of this X-ray machine used in operating rooms was developed at Brigham Young University using origami-inspired engineering.
Credit: Brigham Young University
The design of the shroud was complex. In order to accommodate the needed motion and geometry of the X-ray machine arm, the BYU team developed an adjustable shroud based on a crease pattern named Miura-ori. Named after the Japanese astrophysicist Koryo Miura, the Miura-ori method has inspired the field of systems design, allowing engineers to fold and unfold rigid and thick surfaces in different directions and continuous motion.
Another healthcare application for origami engineering is in the area of surgical probes, forceps and other instruments that have the ability to enter an opening in the body in a narrow and compact state and unfold after insertion. Origami-based engineering may also play a role in improved biomedical stents.


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