Marcelo Coelho and Skylar Tibbits
Hyperform is a speculative material research project inspired by the size constraints of desktop 3-D printers. In order to overcome these spatial limitations the designers developed a geometry that is visually arresting, generating forms that maximize printing capacity in a minimal space. It is unclear if these geometries have any useful purpose, but by asking the question “What if printers could create something larger than themselves?” the designers open up our imagination to material futures of various scales. However, it is the performative video of the unfurling of a very long 3-d printed chain that moves us from the technological sublime into something much more mundane and strange. Long ropes of plastic: Is this the future we were promised? The physically articulated objects the designers have assembled translate the utopian rhetoric of 3-D printing into physically manifest everyday objects that are uncanny but serve no known purpose. This project is speculative but is particularly successful because the designers went beyond the vaporware phase of 3-D printing and forced themselves to contend with the limitations of the world of atoms and gravity.
Robert Foster commented: “I was also attracted to hyperform as an idea as it could because it is like an old idea placed in a new realm. 3D printing will become part of future life but one of its downfalls is size. The project was well researched and considered, I like ideas that are simple and yet can change the world for the better.”
As 3D printers become affordable and ubiquitous, they are also becoming smaller, placing severe constraints on the scale of objects we can create. Hyperform is a design and research project that attempts to address this problem by identifying computational and material folding strategies that allow large scale objects to be compressed into a minimal volume, maximizing the printing capability of desktop 3D printers. We developed a technique based on a chain of linkages that pre-encodes angle information and can be folded into 1D, 2D and 3D assemblies.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you?
We are in the midst of a revolution that promises to forever change how we make things. At one extreme, software tools are empowering individuals to envision, create and share their own designs; while at another, low-cost digital fabrication machines are allowing these one-of-a-kind creations to be built and consumed from the comfort of our homes. However, while 3D printers are becoming increasingly accessible and capable of rivaling the quality of professional equipment, they are still inherently limited by a small print volume, placing severe constraints on the type and scale of objects we can create.
In this project we worked with Formlabs to create objects that were effectively larger than their printer, which uses stereolithography (SLA) to build objects from a UV-curable resin. Utilizing the full volume of a 3D printer requires balancing the capabilities of the print material with the overall size and constraints of the print volume. It became clear that smaller, more detailed structures would be better for filling the print volume; however, the smaller structures pushed the limits of what could reasonably be resolved by the resin and the laser. This required paying careful attention to the tolerances of the design elements which would secure the assembled final structure. In addition, the printer had trouble generating adequate support material for our models, so we had to design custom supports to allow for full use of the print volume.
Our team was composed of members with multidisciplinary skillsets and backgrounds. We brought experience in shape-changing materials and composites in fashion, product design and architectural applications. In addition, we also brought in team members with experience in developing self-assembling and programmable material technologies for the built environment. We worked closely with Formlabs, with their team of mechanical engineers, software engineers and industrial designers that developed the Form1 printer itself.
Additional criteria of the project were threefold:
1. We kept strict focus on encoding assembly information into the printed parts, by programming the geometry of the parts that would be joined together. We assigned angles to each joint so that they could only be assembled at their printed, pre-determined angles, eliminating the need for assembly instructions.
2. We focused on the use of a single 3D printing technology which we believe encapsulates some of the main constraints that end-users will eventually have to deal with at home. At the same time, SLA was an appropriate choice for this project since it allows for a wider range of materials and higher resolution than traditional FDM machines.
3. In order to test our discoveries and developments, we set out to build a chandelier that could incorporate some of the real world constraints that users will inevitably encounter, such as warping due to gravity, fading and discoloration due to sunlight exposure, and size change due to thermal expansion/contraction.
We started our research by developing a taxonomy of elements that could be combined to create shape-changing forms. The goal was to understand and classify the available design space that could address the challenges of the project. We conducted a broad search for mechanical elements that could fold or compress a large object. We organized these mechanical elements into categories, and narrowed our search to categories we thought most capable of addressing our problem. The most promising element for our problem was a hinge, which we then tweaked and tested until we had created a hinge design that could be 3D printed in any 3D orientation, and satisfied the mechanical and material constraints of our printer. Once we had created such a versatile hinge, we developed a design process consisting of five steps:
1. Object segmentation: First, a large scale object is transformed into a continuous path by relocating density to its surface.
2. Chain Population: The created path is then populated with a sequence of universal joints creating a chain. Each link in the chain holds programmable notches which encode angle information and determine how links are assembled together.
3. Packing: The chain is then folded into a Hilbert curve -- an efficient space filling algorithm -- matching the boundaries of the 3D printer's volume.
4. 3D Printing: The Hilbert curve is printed.
5. Transformation: Finally, the 3D printed chain is unfolded and reassembled into the original, large scale object.
Folding as a computational design and assembly strategy can be found across natural systems, such as in the structures of proteins and DNA, and in industrial applications, which seek to increase efficiency while supporting high degrees of structural complexity, interoperability and reuse. Since folding can be found in a multitude of contexts, our techniques could potentially be used in a wide variety of applications.
Since the development of Hyperform, other designers have started to explore similar concepts to circumvent the volume limitations of 3D printers. One notable example is Kinematics, a project developed by Nervous System, which uses folding as a way to compress geometry in the design of 3D printed jewelry and textiles.
The full potential for 3D printing to democratize and make accessible the means of production is yet to be realized and folding geometries can a play a critical role in this process. By expanding the boundaries of what can be made today, these new techniques will also unleash entirely new opportunities. Of particular importance is reversibility, which can allow for the shipping of flat materials that expand to maximum volume on-site, and self-transformation which can allow objects to kinetically respond to their environment and accommodate changing use conditions.