Computational Manufacturing

This is by far and away the coolest piece of technology I’ve seen all year. And it’s applicable to real world solutions. Doubly so, since I seem to be working more with manufacturing these days.

Apparently, from what I can tell, someone designed an algorithm for folding proteins, chemicals and other very small things, in very specific shapes and being very efficient about it. This is important for knowing how proteins fold and creating drugs to cure cancer, among other things. It also is very useful, it turns out, for turning flat materials into useful 3D objects.

Now, that sounds lame and boring, but if you realize that most things on planet earth that aren’t made of wood or plastic, once started out as a flat thing, then it should quickly dawn on you that if you design a better way to shape flat things into 3D objects than the human brain can, and do it in shapes that waste the least amount of material. That’s a pretty neat concept.

Now, how someone looked at protein folding algorithms and thought, “hmm, if only we could adapt this to make clothing” is beyond me. It really is a clever use for it. However, when I saw the picture (thumbnail, above), I immediately recognized it as a solution (or alternative) to what for a long time was one of the first search results for “plywood sailboat” – is the Black Cat, which is a 38′ plywood boat.  The Black Cat uses flat pieces of plywood (plywood has long been the “magic material” used by amateur boat builders for close to 60 years now) to build a 3D, smooth curved hull using a technique called “radius chine“. Radius Chine construction is really cool, because it solves all the problems with building boats out of flat stuff – sharp edges and flat sides – bad hull characteristics for an all-purpose racing sailboat/yacht. Sadly, this system doesn’t apply to boats much smaller than 35′ because

  1. Plywood has a minimum bending radius. This radius is quite large, and boats smaller than ~28′ have hulls that regularly use a bending radius smaller than what plywood will typically do, particularly in the important areas below the water line.
  2. Radius chine requires complex, precise curved cuts. This is difficult-to-impossible to do with tools in a garage for the average home builder.

So this new system would appear to be applicable to building smaller boats in a nearly curved manner, using less waste material than traditional ways. It appears to only cut up the individual pieces in to straight edges (though at odd angles), and doesn’t waste a lot of wood (20 sheets of plywood at $12 each begins to add up). It would be interesting to apply this system (which seems to have no problem wrapping fabric around a rather complex shaped, 6′ tall model) to the rather basic shape of a sailboat hull, which is typically around 18-35′ long, and 6-8′ wide. Maybe you could even apply this design using 1/8″ Luan to build some sort of futuristic PDRacer 2.0 plywood sailboat that’s even easier to build than the original.

38' Radius Chine plywood sailboat under construction

I’m not sure how you would solve the straight edge, flat panel problem, but plywood is quite flexible, especially when you cut it in to thin strips, as this program seems to like to do. It’s certainly worth looking into, especially if you can paint it with a Dazzle paint scheme.

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