Texas A&M University researchers expect custom cyber technology to do for creative manufacturing what the Industrial Revolution did for mass production of commodities. The approach uses origami and kirigami manufacturing principles to give non-manufacturers the ability to design and customize products such as chairs, lamps and desks for their own use.

With origami technology, manufacturers start by placing a flat sheet of material (metal or some kind of polymer) in a machine containing a robot that can fold it into the desired shape. Some machines can fold material using gravity, twisting and turning it so it bends in a specific direction. A kirigami machine has the ability to cut and fold the material. This is currently done for a select number of large-scale parts but has not yet been used to make commercial items for the public.Custom cyber manufacturing uses the technology behind origami and kirigami manufacturing. Image credit: Texas A&M UniversityCustom cyber manufacturing uses the technology behind origami and kirigami manufacturing. Image credit: Texas A&M University

How does this differ from 3-D printing? The researchers explain that 3-D printing would not be the best way to make custom products used on a daily basis that are thin and shell-like. Objects made in a 3-D printer are very versatile, and the process can potentially make many intricate shapes but is slow and not suitable for production of slender or thin parts. Origami manufacturing is more efficient, faster and less costly. An origami manufacturing printer can take three minutes to make the same object that requires three hours via 3-D printing.

A major application for this technology is in the field of orthotics. Mass-produced leg and wrist braces are made the same way and not customized to fit each individual patient, which can make them extremely uncomfortable to wear. With custom cyber manufacturing, patients could have braces molded to fit the shape of their wrists or legs.

This type of technology has the potential to make commercial consumer items like jewelry, lamp shades, boxes or anything that is hollow or shell like. Custom cyber manufacturing can also help open up employment in the manufacturing field. A cyber manufacturing job will allow the person operating the machine to design what their product will look like.

Researchers are in the process of building a large origami manufacturing machine, to be housed on the Texas A&M campus, with a robotic arm inside to fold the material.