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Metamaterial mechanisms

Dezeen is, for me, a daily visit website. Why? Well, partly it’s for the, sometimes amazing, big modern buildings they feature, in among all the, usually boring, small modern buildings which are their daily bread. And partly it’s for postings like this one which appeared today, entitled “Metamaterials make it possible to create mechanisms from a single piece of plastic”.

How on earth can a single piece of plastic be a mechanism? Follow the link, and watch the little scrap of video which shows you such an object in action. Maybe you’ve already seen a door handle like this, but I never have.

What this video doesn’t show is the details of how on earth this was accomplished. If you want to know that as well, keep reading the Dezeen posting linked to above. And if you really want to get to grips with who they are and what they are up to, try reading this paper, entitled “Metamaterial Mechanisms”. I won’t be doing this myself, but this is why Samizdata has commenters.

Even though the names of those doing this (Frohnhofen, Lindsay, Kovacs, Lopes, Chen) seem to span the world, my impression, for whatever it may be worth, is that what we see here is Germany doing what Germany does best. Which is: taking some newly discovered form of creativity which more Anglo-inclined tinkerers have been tinkering with for the last few years, for the fun of it, and studying it systematically, so that it can then be studied properly, by many more people, and then done properly, on an industrial scale. Fun, in Germany (as this guy is fond of explaining), is what happens after the working day has ended.

There is a lot wrong with the world, now as always. But one good thing that shows no sign of stopping is the invention and development of amazing new gadgets, processes and manufacturing techniques. Long may this continue.

13 comments to Metamaterial mechanisms

  • Paul Marks

    Very good Brian.

  • That Port House in Antwerp looks like an eyesore, or a very bad attempt at Photoshop.

  • CaptDMO

    Gosh, when I was a lad. I learned to make ALL SORTS of stuff, from a SINGLE TREE. Trebuchets…to tables…to toothpicks.
    And THEN make drafting paper from the “leftovers”.
    OK, I GUESS automobile frames was ok, but the
    charcoal briquettes for BBQ, out of leftovers is AWESOME! And even the smoke promotes new tree growth! (just don’t use it in your wooden house for heat, WITHOUT a mason’s, or potter’s, chimney, or something).
    *sigh* POINT BEING…
    Ooooo…, just like the internet, ancillary industry economics! Personally, I like pine (or coal) tar based shampoo…for, um, the administration of (ie)dandruff.
    Variable wood characteristics? OK, which species?
    Variable plastics characteristics? OK,How long a carbonate chain you want with that?

  • Watchman

    My question now is that whether the ability to make one-piece mechanisms is going to work well with 3-D printing. Would be useful to be able to print a new door mechanism whenever I was doing the next bit of my ongoing quest to redecorate a small house far too often, but one of the virtues of 3D (which is the correct form?) printing was also meant to be the ability to produce complex mechanisms, which is being rendered less urgent if simple versions of the same can be produced.

    The future looks fun though. Albeit some of the architecture is questionable…

  • llamas

    Grandiose over-hype, coupled with the usual love affairs with 3D printing and CAD software.

    Engineers and designers spend their days trying to make one part do multiple things – be a pivot, and a spring, and a lock, all at once. Google ‘1896 Mauser’ for a prime example. This is part-and-parcel of good engineering and design, because fewer parts = less $$, and less to fail as well.

    There are a few semi-magical materials which open new doors in this direction – luckylucky noted SMAs, which truly are a game changer. But I patented a SMA-based printer mechanism more than 10 years ago, so it’s hardly bleeding-edge, is it? But low-grade silicones are not going to be the building blocks of a new technological dawn.

    This is just a fancy, flashy way of illustrating an age-old design imperative.

    llamas new rule of engineering demonstrations – if the “new and novel” concept is illustrated with an animated graphic taken from a fancy 3D CAD system, chances are that there’s a lot less ‘new, novel and unobvious” content there than meets the eye. What’s on the screen is just electrons, interestingly-arranged, and I have lost count of the number of 3D CAD designs I have encountered which looked simply awesome on the screen, but which totally puked in real life. Same goes for FEA/FMEA analyses, which any good engineer knows need to be treated with respectful caution, since they are based entirely upon idealized and laboratory-derived parameters.

    I just witnessed a real-world, full-scale test of an FMVSS truck bumper – the ‘Mansfield Bar”, that keeps you from being decapitated if you drive your car under the back of a truck. Even though it’s a very simple structure, the specifications for these are quite precise, and there’s a lot of money involved, so there was a metric shed-load of FEA done before spending the money to build 2 full-size test articles, which were promptly destroyed in testing. They passed the test – but the real-world results varied by as much as 20% from the FEA predictions, and it some surprising ways as well. Just because it is displayed on a screen, in living colour, does not mean that it is a true representation of the real world. Good engineers know this.



  • Russ in TX

    luckylucky, llamas,

    May I submit something?

    Good Engineers know LOTS of things. But Engineers are terrible at communicating the shape of the world to the rest of We Mortals. Enthusiastic (and often wildly impractical) stuff from the world of design students is often as close as we liberal arts types ever get to it…even the ones like myself and the OP who are trying to learn something.

    I’ve known about SMAs for years. I’m sure there are practical applications somewhere. Never been shown one…

  • Chip

    “What’s on the screen is just electrons, interestingly-arranged.”

    So are words on the internet. But ideas, concepts and visualisations can be compelling without ever being made real.

  • TomJ

    Russ: I wore glasses with SMA frames for years; bloody good bit of kit.

  • Patrick

    My father has a Messerschmitt KR200 three wheel bubble car. Way cool piece of kit. The dynamo is the alternator – so to go in reverse you switch off and turn the ignition key the other way. The engine spins in the other direction and all the gears work just as well backwards as forwards!

  • bloke in spain

    The door handle’s a PoS. For the why, think how you actually use a door handle. You do not rotate it around it’s centre of rotation. You push it down whilst simultaneously commencing to pull or push the door. Reason you see so many doors with broken off plastic handles.

  • bloke in spain

    Someone really should design a device for strangling designers at birth. Yep. Occasionally one of them blunders into improving the way things are done. Mostly they take something tried & tested & turn it into something functionally useless