A Simple Exercise with the Laser

I’ve spent a lot of time with laser cutters in the past. Becoming reacquainted in this week’s fabrication class was like catching up with an old friend.¬†

During my undergraduate studies, I was a shop tech, and overseeing the use of the laser cutter was one of my responsibilities. I was present when Pratt acquired their very first laser cutter and was one of the first to use it for a model. Some things that seem to have advanced in the past 10 years: these lasers seem more powerful, and there’s autofocus. I guess I was hoping more would have advanced, but I suppose it’s still a computer-controlled beam of light being amplified by stimulated emission of radiation…

This was my first laser cut model. I’m also pretty sure this was the first laser cut model at Pratt Institute.

Very quickly, I decided that I wanted to keep this project simple, and not spend more time on it than necessary. This means that I really had to play to the strengths of the laser cutter. I know that later in the semester, I’ll probably end up spending plenty of time laser etching and cutting all kinds of material, and I really just wanted to focus on making something fun and simple.

Modular lamp shade

Taking inspiration from this lamp shade product, I developed my own module that borrows the interlocking petal logic to create something different. I was hoping to make something that would offer even more geometric variety with a single module. This would require the module to have a kind of switch that would alter its own geometry.

Most of the polyhedra that I was interested in being able to replicate can be broken down into equilateral triangles or right angle isosceles triangles, so my module would need to be able to do both as well.

This is the flattened version of the module with a switch in the middle that transforms it from right-angle isosceles triangle to equilateral triangle.

The functional aspect of this element is that it has a tab in the middle that can reach across the piece and lock into a small slot which shortens the length of the top edge turning the module into an equilateral triangle. In practice, though, it doesn’t work that well unless the piece is locked into equilateral triangle mode. When unlocked, the paper loses its structural stability and becomes very floppy.

These modules have been configured to be equilateral triangles. The depth added from the central tab makes the pieces more stable.

This limited the number of shapes I would be able to create but still offered a wealth of possibilities. I started with the simplest shape, a hexahedron composed of triangles.

A paper hexahedron

This proved that the interlocking petals were performing very well with multiple pieces locked together. I soon found myself building even more complex shapes, culminating with an icosahedron, a 20-sided polyhedron.

A tetrahedron where the modules form the edges and joints are located in the middle of the sides.

In terms of refinement, I need to revisit that central tab in order to maintain structural stability even when it isn’t engaged. I also would like to simplify the geometry of the modules so they don’t look so weird. It’s almost impossible to tell what shape it is without counting the number of pieces being used. And the locks become really challenging to work with when more than 4 units were being tied together. It got very tight.

This joint is engaging six modules together. Getting the petals in and out became tough without tearing the paper.

There isn’t a ton of practical application to any of these yet, but they could be marketed as either a kind of toy or at the very least, a geometry teaching tool. In the meantime, they would make great mobile pieces to hang over my (soon to arrive) kid’s crib!

Paper icosahedron with blue and white modules

1 Comment

  1. Nice work. I wonder if going bigger or a different material will give you more options in geometry. Or at least make it easier to assemble. Perhaps using vinyl and the vinyl cutter could be a next step.

    I like the colors you’re using. Wonder if different textures could be used as well.

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