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Shape-changing metamaterial

08 August 2016

Engineers from the University of Bristol have developed a shape-changing metamaterial using Kirigami – the ancient Japanese art of cutting and folding paper to obtain 3D shapes.

An open honeycomb at each stage during the manufacturing process (image courtesy of University of Bristol)
An open honeycomb at each stage during the manufacturing process (image courtesy of University of Bristol)

Metamaterials are a class of material engineered to produce properties that don’t occur naturally. Currently such materials are used to make artificial electromagnetic and vibration absorbers and high-performance sensors. However the material can also be applied to transform two-dimensional sheet materials into complex three-dimensional shapes with a broader choice of geometries than is possible with ‘classical’ origami.

The mechanical metamaterials developed by PhD student Robin Neville, changes shape seamlessly, exhibits large variations in mechanical performance with small geometry changes, and can be adapted to modify its configuration by using mainstream actuation mechanisms.

It can also be produced using off-the-shelf thermoplastic or thermoset composite materials, and different sensing and electronics systems can be embedded to obtain a fully integrated smart shape-changing structure.

Commenting on the development, Fabrizio Scarpa, professor of Smart Materials and Structures in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and ACCIS, said: “Our research presents a new investigation of the kinematics of a family of cellular metamaterials based on Kirigami design principles. This technique allows us to create cellular structures with engineered cuts and folds that produce large shape and volume changes, and with extremely directional, tuneable mechanical properties.”

Robin Neville, PhD student, added: “By combining analytical models and numerical simulations we have demonstrated how these Kirigami cellular metamaterials can change their deformation characteristics. We have also shown the potential of using these classes of mechanical metamaterials for shape change applications like morphing structures.”

In the future, this Kirigami metamaterial could be used in robotics, morphing structures for airframe and space applications, microwave and smart antennas.

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