Technology inspired by nature, or biomimicry, often delivers pure and elegantly efficient designs. Nature can grow materials and structures when and where needed to perform optimally. While we can doubt manufacturing methods will ever match natures awesome grow-to-what's-required processes, there is so much to be learned just by observing natural growth. For inflatable parts and structures, nature has inspired us to invent the all new shapewave technology for building true 3D shaped rigid inflatables.
Since long, inflatables have been successful forms of biomimicry, whether used as bellows, cushions, tankage or structures. Inflatables are usually characterized by practicality and low cost.
Any section of an inflatable part will try to assume a spherical shape. By constraining the membranes, other shapes are achievable, like cylinders and cones. Adding internal links, or webbing, between the membranes allows an inflatable part to assume a compound shape, just think of airbeds. The denser the population of such internal links, the smoother the surface will become, with the added benefit that higher pressures can be applied. Also, a high webbing density increases the stiffness of an inflated part.
The popularity of inflatable stand-up paddleboards, or ISUPs, speaks volumes. Filled at around 1bar (~14psi), stiff and really flat surfboards emerge from a backpack. Still, here the biomimicry only goes so far. iSUP boards are manufactured with highly sophisticated Jacquard looms with a procedure called drop stitching. Despite their complexity these looms can only braid flat shapes of a set thickness. As the drop stitched braids are nowhere near airtight, a thick coat of elastomere - often soft PVC - needs to be applied. As a result, these parts are quite clunky once deflated.
Preliminary studies indicate that the shapewave technology will allow manufacturing parts at a fraction of the weight and deflated bulk. A 10' ISUP usually weighing 15kg could be reduced to under 5kg, and to pack down to fit a grocery bag, with the added benefit of having a meaningful deck and underwater shape.
The shapewave technology, as first revealed in the international patent application, utilizes a streamlined set of algorithms to populate, evaluate and manufacture true 3D inflatable parts in analogy with 3D printing. During the build proces, a continuous tape is alternately applied between two opposing airtight membranes, with each section of tape having an individual length. The bond lines are programmed on the membranes for enhanced precision, while the membranes can be assembled from multiple panels to build double curvature parts. Preliminary experiments are indicative of build speeds of over 3000 bond lines per hour.
the shapewave project started from a do not pierce membrane material that’s perfectly airtight to begin with axiom
Applications for the shapewave technology are numerous. Objects moving through water like boat hulls, boards and canoes, or through air like wings, sails, rotor blades and kites, will benefit from unmatched shape precision, combined with high stiffness, rigidity and a small packed down volume, all at low costs and with short development cycles. We're keeping an ever growing list of potential applications that is starting to look so wild we're adapting to the idea that the first commercial application won't even be on the list.
The Airborne Wind Energy (AWE) industry provides a very interesting case for the shapewave tech. AWE deploys a variety of kite based systems generate electricity at a a fraction of the costs of comparable power wind turbines. At the June 2022 AWEC2021 in Milan, the shapewave project was succesfully presented to the AWE community, as the shapewave tech allows to reduce drag, weight and complexity of such kites. Faster kites mean higher pull per m², allowing the AWE industry to step up its game.
Keep an eye on this page to see what's in store for shapewave!
Investor inquiries can be directed to Rudo Enserink.
image: inflatable demo wing section