M.P.M.S. Micro Pneumatic Macro Structures

The purpose of this seminar and research inspired by Thomas Herzog’s seminal work Pneumatische Konstruktionen/Bauten aus Membranen und Luft is two-fold. On the one hand it addresses the concept of small scale inflatable components that when properly designed and arranged lead to new large scale lightweight structures, secondly it is a convenient platform to engage a small group of highly motivated Master and Diploma students in fine tuning their computational and geometrical analysis skills.

Most known pneumatic structures rely on large envelops or large sections to build up the final hull. Few envelops exemplify the concept of micro pneumatic elements used to generate large hulls. The use of smaller individual units could permit a certain number to collapse without pulling down the entire structure, as is the case in large balloon type hulls. Another aspect is the potential for locally informing components to react to environmental situations, such as solar, wind, media, etc.

The seminar reviews Herzog’s work and pitches recent 2d digitally fabricated periodic pattern studies produced by Haresh Lalvani to explore pinwheel motions in flat polygons which when stretched generate complex 3d geometries. The students investigate patterns suitable for study on a larger scale. The shapes must be developable, as in "flat when at rest". This is an important factor in the design and fabrication process. We are inflating 2d shapes welded at their edges, very similar to the work and research produced by Oscar Zieta; however we are using PVC sheets (donated by Renolit) instead of sheet metal.

To explore these concepts we have developed a Rhino ® Grasshopper and Kangaroo physics script capable of iteratively controlling mesh refinement, pseudo material properties (as we are currently limited to a mass springs solver) and physical forces (such as air pressure and gravity).

Parallel to the digital models the students build analog prototypes to check against their simulation results. This has lead to intense research in mesh optimization theories to arrive at clean initial mesh setups.

The students have managed to develop new types of micro pneumatic structures using flexible and stiff materials to control the deformation process on the membrane under pressure. Furthermore, they have demonstrated that geometry on the macro and micro level plays a role in controlling the shapes without performing the surfaces.

Pfaff Industries enabled us to mass-produce prototypes with ultra-sonic welding devices. This type of technology allows bonding multi-ply materials with precision and speed.

Directed by Christophe Barlieb