These three very different structural elements were designed to carry the same load

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Well, the one on the left is the clear winner. You only need to stamp and bend sheet metal to make it. That’s super efficient. I’m glad we are replacing those fancy spider web ones with that new design.


I dunno does it use more raw materials? how expensive are those materials to obtain? How many of these widgets do we need? There’s all sorts of things that could make anyone one of those designs preferable.


As is usually the case in any kind of engineering exercise, you have to choose what you’re optimizing for. Size? Weight? Strength? Manufacturability? Cost? Durability? Repairability?

Understanding the goal is the first step. Everything else follows from that. The design on the right isn’t necessarily better at everything, and what it excels at will probably be to the detriment of something else.


I think the one on the right shrank a bit. Maybe wash the next one in cold water?


The folks in the world of microwave electronics design have been doing this for a couple decades, allowing the computer to optimize the layout of a circuit for maximum bandwidth and gain flatness. It allowed us to remove the micrometer tuning adjustments from our radio telescope receivers, for example. That’s good because the thing being tuned is cooled to 4 Kelvin in a cryostat, so adding a knob is really tricky.


One of the right looks like abunch of people on top of one another

The tricky thing about ‘biomimicry’ is that biological systems are basically produced by swarms of assembler nanites; which can be a tough act to follow.


Sounds rather like NASA’s experiment with evolving antennas.

The results are strong candidates for ‘most likely to be mistaken for a haphazardly unfolded paperclip’; but apparently work much better than they look.


Hey folks, let’s give it up for those assembler nanites!

Now have your heard the one about the two unemployed engineers who walk into a bar…

(sounds of crickets chirping)


I know an actual rocket scientist who would be laughing hard at this.


Cricket stridulatory organ surface textures and sound amplifying selectively sclerotinized chitin resonant structures brought to you by assembler nanites…

Tough crowd too.


Isn’t engineering cool when money is no object?


One of these will probably take much longer to rust out than the others.


It would be interesting to have the computer optimize the design for ease of fabrication from a single stamping, for example, or to otherwise minimize the effort required to make the part. There may be a big equation that represents all that.


I’m painfully underqualified to go into any detail; but my understanding is that the people who take origami(and various generalizations that ignore real-world constraints on folding or allow certain deviations from the classic single-sheet-of-uncut-material) as a mathematical pursuit seriously are pretty much doing exactly that.

Miura definitely gets a mention, since his “Method of packaging and deployment of large membranes in space” both sounds super cool and was behind the design of the solar array that flew with the Space Flyer Unit in 1995.

Here’s an NSF project in a similar vein .

Erik Demaine at MIT, and his collaborators, have done some neat stuff with self-folding robots.

Robert Lang is another name I recognize; he does both pretty impressive origami; and math. His page is worth a visit.

I would be deeply unsurprised by; but know pretty much nothing about, the existence of people who come at the problem from the sheet metal side, rather than starting in origami or math; and have since developed techniques for problems too serious for intuition and cardboard mockups. Given how much gets stamped out of sheet metal every day, there would certainly be a tidy reward for developing more efficient ways of doing it/reducing the number of required welds and fasteners, and so on.

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Not only is it easier to make, but it probably holds up a lot better to forces that are outside the design parameters. I mean, if I step on it very carefully, the proper egg shell will support my weight, but I’d rather trust a brick in case I’m clumsy.


Maybe. Though I occasionally hear about advances in selective laser sintering of metal.

Im looking forward to someone building a bridge along these lines.

For many applications, saving 50% of the weight is way more useful than resisting extremely unlikely failure modes.