Origami in Engineering

Highlights

Origami in an Engineering Perspective

Origami is an ancient Japanese art form of paper folding which has produced many stunning pieces of art of the years. However, when you view it through the lens of an engineer, it can be viewed as a method in which a large flat material is folded in a predetermined way to produce a particular shape, which is compact, probably rigid or even produces a particular motion. Also, with the right thickness you could fold a very large piece of paper or a very small one.
So now it’s not that hard to imagine that origami could provide a very unique way to solve many engineering problems. In more technical terms, it provides stow-ability, portability, deploy-ability, reduction in parts, scalability and ease of manufacturing.

Scope of Origami in Engineering

Once we understand the mathematics behind the art (which is quite a bit!), engineers can use it to design devices with all sorts of functions. Origami is basically a compliant mechanism. Compliant mechanisms are mechanisms which achieve force and motion transmission through elastic body deformation or in simple terms through bending.
However, origami need not be restricted to materials that can be folded. By cutting, scoring materials or adding hinges, we can even fold thick rigid materials. This concept can be used in various fields, including medical and space exploration.

Applications In Use

In the Medical field it has been used for designing foldable forceps for less invasive surgery. Kirigami, which is based on traditional origami rules, allows cutting in addition to creases and has been used to design nano-injectors for gene therapy, that are just 4 micrometers thick! Origami stent is also a very useful application of origami.

A real-life foldable forceps for less invasive surgery

Space exploration particularly has a lot to gain from origami. The space on a rocket is very limited and origami provides a way to store it in a compact space during launch and then unfold it into large structures in space. The folding array on the ISS uses Z pattern. The Mars phoenix lander uses a fan folding solar array. Future projects like solar sails for propulsion to Marian habitats are all drawing inspiration from origami.
The Starshade project by NASA is a particularly fascinating application of origami. It is basically a large sunshield the size of a baseball field, flying tens of thousands of kilometers in front of a telescope to block out the glare from a star while observing a distant exoplanet.

The conceptualization of the Starshade project

Imagine a smart sheet that could self fold into any form. Now imagine several of them working together to accomplish complex tasks. Think of the limitless opportunities that it would give rise to. That’s just one of the things being explored in the field of origami robotics. Researchers are even working on tiny ingestible origami robots in the shape of a pill that can unfold inside your stomach to treat wounds.

Conclusion

Origami has even inspired many innovative products like flat folding rigid shopping bags, lamps, stools and Kayaks that can be folded into a suitcase.
Origami in engineering is a pretty new concept and the application of origami mathematics is still quite minimal. However, with the introduction of new algorithms and patterns, we can look forward to many more fascinating designs inspired from origami, probably even from you!

An article by Ayush Sharan, 3rd Year Mechanical Engineering

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