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TenseFlatables: Additively Manufactured Tensegrity-Assisted Inflatable Structures


  • SAE: Create the Future Design Contest 2023
    • Category Winner – Manufacturing & Materials
    • The team was invited to New York City to pitch TenseFlatables to a panel of judges and was awarded first place in the Manufacturing & Materials category.
  • 3D Pioneers Challenge 2022
    • Finalist—Bagu: Bespoke Inflatable Handbags to Protect Valuable Devices

Addressing the engineering challenge of maintaining structural lightweightness without compromising functionality remains a significant hurdle. Inflatables, which derive load-carrying capacities from pressurized air within a tensioned hyperelastic skin, offer a compelling solution. However, despite their lightweight nature, they are seldom utilized in engineering applications due to limitations in meeting stringent dimensional tolerances and incorporating sharp-edged design features. Additionally, prevailing fabrication methods constrain inflatable designs to simplistic, rounded geometries, lacking the ability to accommodate complex topological features. The current approach of fusing 2D patterns for 3D post-inflation shapes further restricts the potential for intricate designs. Moreover, existing inflatables lack the mechanical stiffness necessary for engineering tasks.

Introducing our innovation—TenseFlatables—a solution that addresses these challenges while streamlining the design and fabrication process. Each TenseFlatable comprises two integral components: a customizable external geometry and an internal tensegrity architecture, enhancing dimensional precision and load-bearing capabilities. Like traditional inflatables, TenseFlatables offer easy deflation and stowage.

Our patent-pending fabrication method employs extrusion-based additive manufacturing to produce the flexible, airtight hyperelastic skin and the internal tensegrity mesh in a single workflow. This approach is far more efficient than conventional methods, enabling customization of external shapes and internal structures for application-specific performance. The simplified process enhances cost-effectiveness and facilitates large-scale automated manufacturing.

Empowered by our patent-pending technique and bespoke slicing software, we maintain precise control over every aspect of TenseFlatable design, including skin thickness and mesh density. This control allows for intricate designs meeting strict dimensional tolerances and tailored stiffness characteristics for optimal mechanical performance.

TenseFlatables exhibit superior performance compared to conventional inflatables, promising novel applications in automotive, aircraft, and spacecraft components to reduce fuel consumption. Their deploy-and-stow capability makes them ideal for aerospace and hypersonic deployable supports. Additionally, their advanced functionality can enhance biomedical procedures such as Balloon Kyphoplasty and facilitate innovative medical devices for cancer and infection monitoring.

Patents: Sharma, B., & Johnston, W. (2023). U.S. Patent Application No. 18/068,301.

Entry for SAE Create the Future