Metal Origami Meets Direct Manufacturing
Matthew Loew posted on June 09, 2014 | | 5399 views
I have been fascinated by the technology from Industrial Origami Inc. (IOI) since I first met the Max Durney (Founder and CTO) several years ago. If you are not familiar with this process, please take a look at the examples page on their website. Very cool stuff.

It has always seemed to me that the Industrial Origami process is as much a "Direct Manufacturing" method as is 3D Printing. When most people think of Direct Manufacturing they are probably thinking of Additive Manufacturing and 3D Printing. These processes are dominated by requiring the following:
  • A virtual representation of the geometry (typically originating in a CAD model and into a specific data format)
  • A manufacturing machine that generates the component into a final (or near final) form
  • No component-specific tooling required
  • Minimal (if any) post processing required
Most Additive Manufacturing methods (SLS, FDM, etc.) can truly go from art (CAD) to part. Some of the methods require a minimal amount of post processing (i.e. time in a dilution tank to remove the structural support material or a thermal process to bring a metal part nearer to full density). Even with some post-processing steps one still has a part that required zero tooling to make. To me, the IOI process is essentially the same:
  • Develop the part in CAD as one would a sheet-metal part and generate the flat pattern
  • Generate the cut path (analogous to working with the *.stl files for 3D printing)
  • Cut the sheet-metal part (laser or water-jet cutter)
  • Fold part - manually (clearly a post-processing procedure)

What you have now is a metal structural component that to make any other way would require tooling, more operations (fasteners, welding, etc.), more time to make, or would be significantly more costly. So this manufacturing method has many of the same benefits that 3D Printing and other Additive Manufacturing methods but does not require a machine dedicated to this method and does not use single-purpose or proprietary materials.

While there are many production applications for this technology, I've been looking for opportunities to incorporate IOI components along with 3D Printed parts to rapidly develop prototypes and mock-ups during the product development process (getting back to Rapid Prototyping). For the large-scale NPD projects I have been involved in with significant emphasis on Mechatronics the ability to rapidly develop and demonstrate concepts physically (in full- or fractional-scale) is important. 

I am really interested to hear comments on the technology and applications, especially where this can support NPD efforts. Happy folding!