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How the Japanese art of paper folding can benefit the manufacturing industry

Origami is a Japanese art form that involves folding uncut sheets of paper into 3D decorative objects such as flowers or animals. But why stop at paper? Attempts to make products from a single sheet of metal through bending followed by cutting have been done since the late 50s. However, these early experiments raised stress development issues, which is why the ancient practice of origami came to help the manufacturing industry. Neil Ballinger discusses the benefits of industrial origami in the manufacturing industry 

Many may view origami as just a hobby, but the practice is being increasingly adopted by companies and researchers in a variety of areas, from medicine to the military. Professional associations such as the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and American Mathematical Society are adopting the practice, even including the topic at annual conferences.

There are many benefits to applying the principles of origami to the manufacturing process, such as the ability to create compact designs and the potential to save on materials and labour. These benefits could change manufacturing processes completely. Stilride is one company hoping to benefit from the art form of origami with its creation of STILFOLD – a unique and sustainable manufacturing process to develop electro-mobility products out of a single sheet of steel. 

Neil Ballinger, head of EMEA at global automation parts supplier EU Automation

Simplifying manufacturing 

Origami traditionally uses uncut sheets of paper, which means little to no material waste is produced. This would also apply when using materials such as sheets of steel. The folding technique facilitates the creation of compact designs, which manufacturers can customise to benefit their purpose and reduce shipping costs due to the smaller size of the product. The method also reduces the need for other manufacturing processes such as measuring, cutting and welding. 

Industrial Origami, Inc — a design engineering firm specialised in low force folding of sheet metal, launched in 2002 — is helping manufacturers benefit from reduced material waste and labour. The company’s technology is said to make production easier, cheaper and faster. It even has an impressive client list to support its claims, including global manufacturers such as Bentley Motors and Whirlpool. 

Industrial Origami, Inc’s fold-and-build method can save manufacturers anywhere from 20 to 50%on materials and 25 to 45% in labour costs, for a total cost reduction of up to 70%.

Environmentally conscious 

Material waste and process reduction also result in environmental benefits. Stilride’s scooter design is said to have a 50% lower climate impact compared to traditional scooters. This low environmental footprint is due to a combination of reduced material waste and more environmental shipping and producing methods. The elimination of techniques like welding also conserves energy.

“In addition to reducing manufacturing costs, we offer significant environmental benefits by reducing material use, rework and eliminating wasteful shipping of ‘air’,” stated V. Gerry Corrigan, president and CEO of Industrial Origami, Inc. 

With some materials becoming difficult to source, reduced material waste could be very beneficial to the manufacturing industry, reducing their supply needs and material costs. Companies such as Stilride and Industrial Origami, Inc. are leading the way for manufacturers to adopt a new process by not only being early adopters of this method themselves but also providing software to create folding instructions for their customers. Soon, manufacturers could see their factories full of robots automatically folding sheet metals into their wanted designs. 

Neil Ballinger is head of EMEA at global automation parts supplier EU Automation.

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