The Wonders of "Origami Engineers"

Dr Zhong You and research student Weina Wu from the Department of Engineering Science have built a foldable grocery bag from steel, using an origami-inspired design that could help speed up factory packaging processes.

The ability to fold containers flat is of inestimable value to carton manufacturers. At present 'packing companies mainly use either flat-packed, rigid boxes that are open at both ends and have to be fastened shut at the bottom before use, or flexible bags that can be folded flat but are not as strong'. Dr Zhong You and Weina Wu have mathematically devised a hybrid solution that involves a complex folding pattern of 28 creases that form the design for a rigid bag with a closed bottom.

28 creases form the design for a rigid bag with a closed bottom

They demonstrated their solution successfully by making a bag from a number of thin steel plates, stuck on to a light, flexible plastic sheet and folding it flat. This is the first time a practical solution has been found to fold flat a rigid bag that is taller than half its depth.

Dr Zhong YouDr You said: "If you have moved house, you know how much time is wasted constructing the base of the box before you can put anything in it, and it’s even worse on a factory assembly line. Making cardboard boxes that can be folded flat, even with their base in place, will speed up automated packaging in factories. We used steel sheet to represent rigid box panels. The solution works for that, and it will work for less-rigid materials."

The dream for 'origami engineers' is to make buildings from rigid materials that can be reconfigured according to need…'someday your kitchen may have counters that fold away and you may even be able to fold up your television'.

Acknowledgements: nature.com and ScienceNow.