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.
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.
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.”
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.