Merger of Fashion and Engineering, Design-based Thinking Set To Revolutionize All Industries

Introducing Metallic "Space Fabric", Created Using 3-D Printing

Muchaneta Kapfunde
Founding Editor in Chief at | editor@fashnerd.com

Founding editor & WearableTechStylist of FashNerd.com. Over 10 years’ experience in Journalism & Fashion PR. Currently one of the leading influencers speaking and writing about Fashion & Lifestyle Technology.

The merger of fashion and engineering is the new black in the fashion tech space. It is an area of innovation that has got our attention. We excited at the idea of advanced woven fabrics being created by engineers.

spaceFabric

Making the headlines is a man called Raul Polit Casillas. He is a systems engineer at NASA, who has spent the last two years developing a metallic space fabric made of interlocking stainless steel squares. At $10,000 per pound, the foldable fabric has the ability to change shape quickly. The most impressive thing is that the flexible material can fold over uneven terrain, creating “feet” that won’t melt the ice under them- a useful feature for astronauts.

spaceFabric

The prototypes look like chain mail, with small silver squares strung together. They were not sewn by hand; instead, they were “printed,” created in one piece with advanced technologies. This was done using a technique called additive manufacturing, otherwise known as 3-D printing on an industrial scale. It is unlike traditional manufacturing techniques, in which parts are welded together, additive manufacturing deposits material in layers to build up the desired object. The advantage of this process is that reduces the cost and increases the ability to create unique materials.

“Adding multiple functions to a material at different stages of development could make the whole process cheaper. It could also open the door to new designs.”

On the printing process Polit Casillas said, “We call it ‘4-D printing’ because we can print both the geometry and the function of these materials. If 20th Century manufacturing was driven by mass production, then this is the mass production of functions.” When it comes to fabricating spacecraft Andrew Shapiro-Scharlotta of JPL, believes that adding multiple functions to a material at different stages of development could make the whole process cheaper and it could also open the door to new designs. Shapiro-Scharlotta, whose office funds research in early-stage technologies like the space fabric, also added, “We are just scratching the surface of what’s possible. The use of organic and non-linear shapes at no additional costs to fabrication will lead to more efficient mechanical designs.”

Space Fabric
Raul Polit Casillas, the space fabric’s creator, holding the space fabric at JPL. Credit NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The space fabrics have four essential functions: reflectivity, passive heat management, foldability and tensile strength. One side of the fabric reflects light, while the other absorbs it, acting as a means of thermal control. It can fold in many different ways and adapt to shapes while still being able to sustain the force of pulling on it.

“You can print, test and destroy the material as many times as you want.”

Looking to the future, Polit Casillas said that he wants to make it possible for the materials to not only be printed when they’re needed but also be recycled by being broken down and reused. “I can program new functions into the material I’m printing,” Polit Casillas said. “It reduces the amount of time spent on integration and testing. You can print, test and destroy the material as many times as you want.”

spaceFabric

Still at the beginning stages of its 4-D printing explorations, Polit Casillas expects that his team will eventually develop materials with more advanced built-in capabilities. When asked if the space material could be adopted by the fashion, Polit Casillas confidently said, “Of course you could use this for fashion, too.” This is good news. I like the idea of designers being able create a garment with one “whole cloth”, so there is no waste. The bonus being that this is the kind of material has the ability to be able to add function, as well.

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