ORIGAMI ENGINEERING – THE ART AND SCIENCE OF SELF-FOLDING PAPER
As non-renewable resources diminish and landfills fill with plastics, we increasingly need new, sustainable materials for product designs.
Enter 3-D paper.
“Rather than using a non-recyclable material such as plastics, 3-D paper may be the new material best suited to produce resilient objects, such as stools, tables and lamps,” says Ata Sina, a master’s student in Mechanical Engineering at UBC. He studies with the Pulp and Paper Centre Director Professor James Olson, P.Eng. (MECH, BASc ’91 ENPH, PhD ’96 CHML), and Professor Mark Martinez, P.Eng. (CHBE, PhD ’95 CHML), director of the Advanced Papermaking Initiative at UBC.
Other possible applications for 3-D paper include custom packaging, noise and heat insulation, decorations and interactive toys.
Equipped with an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from the K.N. Toosi University of Technology in Iran and seven years of experience as a piping design engineer in the oil and gas industry, Sina earned a Master of Science degree at Linnaeus University in Sweden. His research there focused on measuring the bending and stiffness of lumber, thus leading to the current phase of his career studying in the Pulp and Paper Centre with Professors Olson and Martinez.
Intending to defend his master’s thesis in spring 2014, Sina has spent the last two years developing a novel method of creating complex self-folding 3-D paper products.
“I like to call it origami engineering,” says Sina. “The combination of art and science drew me to the project initially. My dream is to have a career that combines the two.”
After much trial and error, the research team has discovered a new approach to making self-folding paper products. They have developed a novel method for creating folds that can produce 3-D paper structures from ordinary 2-D sheets of paper. Their patented method uses strategic placement of thermoplastic polymers onto a design so that when heated to a specific temperature, the polymers shrink and lift the paper at various angles, thus turning the paper into a predetermined 3-D shape.
Sina often sketches the designs himself but also modifies hundreds of available origami patterns. The self-folding material is composed of precut and precreased paper, along with heat-shrinking thermoplastic polymers. Sina uses a computational drawing tool to design folds for a particular 3-D shape. He then uses a computer numerical controlled cutter to cut both the paper and polymers. The entire process is automatic and continuous with the help of a servo-robot developed in-house that assists with the welding of polymers to the paper once the design has been cut and creased.
One day this innovative method may be applied to various applications on a large scale, but for now the team plans to create a book with their designs that will shed light on the potential of using paper as a sustainable material in product design. This decorative do-it-yourself book aims to bridge the gap between art and science by engaging its audience to stay curious, to continue asking questions and to have some fun too.
Ata Sina was one of five Canadian university students selected to attend the Marcus Wallenberg Symposium for Young Researchers in Sweden. The Wallenberg Prize recognizes, encourages and stimulates groundbreaking scientific achievements that contribute significantly to broadening knowledge and to technical development within forestry and forestry-related industries. Sina presented a poster on his 3-D paper folding. Their Majesties the King and Queen of Sweden attended the award ceremony and banquet.
View the video to see this platform technology create a complex 3-D shape.
Featured in Ingenuity Fall 2013 / Winter 2014. Read the full issue and explore past issues here.
To find out how the Pulp and Paper Centre used this novel technology to create their 2013 Holiday cards, read our story here.
Communications Coordinator, Pulp and Paper Centre
University of British Columbia