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How engineers can learn from textile industry about structures?

Have you ever wondered why things were designed this and not another way? Rapid prototyping is changing the way designers and engineers are creating their projects. It is time to say “hello” to industry 4.0. More rapidly, than expected.

No matter how ridiculous it may sound, structural engineers, with almost 5 thousand years of knowledge and expertise never experienced such a sudden growth of possibilities. From Pyramides in Giza to the Eiffel Tower, the basics of constructing didn’t change a lot. But after the rapid prototyping was invented, the number of new possibilities hit the roof.

The textile industry, on the other hand, was always on the frontier of the revolution. It fed the industrialization and gave a boost to 3D printing when this sector was born.

Overcoming the limitations

As textiles, engineering and additive manufacturing were growing separately, the structures are the point that connects them. All of them are struggling with limitations, against the laws of physics to develop new constructions faster, cheaper, with fewer materials used.

Even in 3D printing there still are technologies with geometrical restrictions, like the need for structural supports in FDM (fused deposition modeling) and SLA (stereolithography) techniques.

On the other hand, SLS (selective laser sintering) technology gives the freedom of form, but in the limited printing area. As the more accurate and durable technology, it is used by designers and engineers to prototype new structures.

The knowledge from the textile industry can be crucial, as durability characteristics of textiles, such as strength and elasticity are not easily transferred into the rapid prototyping world. According to “Implementing 3D Printed Structures as the Newest Textile Form” research paper, the most traditional technologies like FDM, SLA or SLS use “homogeneous materials, which can be deposited only at selected locations within a print and what can be printed seldom resembles fabric.” The research based on rigid materials, like in SLS case – PA. It is why it wasn’t possible to “achieve the flexible features such us in knits.”

Why don’t engineers use this technology to reproduce flexibility

The SLS technology gives the freedom of form, so both knittings inspired and weaving inspired materials were possible to print. But engineers somehow wasn’t interested in this type of applications. It was fashion designers who started the movement.

It is how hexagonal shape corresponding to hinge joints with a pivoted angle was invented. The structure bends under pressure and deform, but unfortunately doesn’t have an elastic and flexible surface. The fabric made this way is still looking like a part of the armor.

Nowadays, textiles companies use 3D printers to prototype structures which will be used in the final production, as a structural fiber. The number of application is enormous. From high-quality decorative fabrics, upholstery in the furniture and automotive industry, interior design or as a part of a scenography. In this last case, you need just a small batch but with very accurate reproduction of details. Just like for a costume from the old era or origami paper imitation, to maintain consistency with the play, film and the idea of stage designer or director.

Royal College of Art

Following this process, Mingjing Lin and Tsai-Chun Huang, Ph.D. candidates in Fashion and Textile research, Royal College of Art London decided to make a 3D pleating on the costume for Beijing Opera. Mingjing Lin specializes in 3D printing and Tsai-Chun Huang in pleating. The challenge was to create a material that could be both flexible and sustainable.

Costumes are supposed not only to play the episodic role but are the essential part of the performance. That’s why they had to be extraordinary. The printed material had to fulfill two main functions. First of all, it had to be able to create the shape designed by the artist. The second one was to be wearable to freely perform on the stage by the artists of Beijing Opera. In the performance ‘Farewell My Concubine’ costumes are an integral part of telling the story.

Printing such a costume would be impossible to do with the standard material, such as cotton and silk because 3D printing could give more possibilities to the dramatic geometry.

– 3D printing is our media to probe creative possibilities generated from merging unlike/dynamic elements, such as digital technology and craft, traditional opera and modern performance, as well as East and West. – says Mingjing Lin.

Against the law of physics

Sinterit Lisa helped to meet all the expectations about the material printed. The usage of special, flexible material – Sinterit Flexa Black Soft or Bright, depending on the application and properties, designers are looking for, enabled the texture to synchronize with the actor’s body. The material is entirely wearable, with the fashion shape impossible to create with traditional materials. At the same time, the material keeps the same shape and form of traditional costume. Just take a look at the outcome. It is marvelous.

Unlimited options

Mingjing Lin and Tsai-Chun Huang decided to choose Flexa Black, as the deep black color corresponded with “Farewell my Concubine” opera. But for costume designers and textile fiber designers, the most wanted material could be Flexa Bright. Besides its perfect strength characteristics, which affects the durability of the material during the rehearsals, Flexa Bright can be dyed into colors. Other materials, like Flexa Soft, with the lowest hardness, are used to design sensory fabrics and sportswear prototypes. But the number of possible applications is innumerable, and the designers can still surprise us with their approach.