In our consumer-driven society, we have become removed from craft. The products we rely on are built in huge factories far away. Can a sense of craftsmanship be reintroduced into a 21st century domestic setting? What might this look like?
Materials such as polymers can be highly adaptable, but their applications are often limited. As a design engineer, I saw the potential to create a material system that could be customised and crafted by the end user. Initially, I observed the relationship between materials, tools, instructions and the time involved in traditional crafts, like wood working. These often result in changing a material permanently after cutting. Considering that the user might not have expertise in such fields, I wanted to develop a material that could accommodate the learning process by being reversible. The key to the success of the system would be how easy it is to achieve an aesthetically pleasing and functional end product. The result is a reversible ‘plug and play’ material system.
‘Aktor’ is a rigid mesh that becomes mouldable once activated. It can then be sculpted into any shape to accommodate its user’s immediate needs. Inspired by origami and kirigami, the material softens when charged with electricity. Its mesh-like structure can be pushed and pulled to transform the shape, and therefore its purpose, returning to a rigid state when cooled. The procedure can be repeated at any time. The mesh ‘pattern’ changes size and orientation, but stays coherent and precise during manipulation. Aktor’s natural curvature is a result of the combination of materials and its specific assembly.
In its initial form, Aktor is a roll measuring 1.7m in length and 20cm in diameter. The material itself is made up of three layers; a rigid, heat-sensitive core material, sandwiched between two layers of stitched felt. The core material is cut in a unique way and is designed to sustain a high static load while remaining flexible. One sheet of Aktor contains about 2240 folds at specific angles to provide those characteristics. The super absorbent felt layer allows the mesh to freeze and loosen. The felt is impregnated with a polymer that is rigid at room temperature, but becomes mouldable at 55°C. The thermoplastic material at its core is activated by electricity. Conductive wire is woven into the felt, heating up the thermoplastic material in only 10mins. By stitching the pieces together, the joints can move freely while keeping the unique moulding behaviour.
Aktor is also optimised for an efficient manufacturing process. The material is assembled from standard sheet materials, minimising the number of offcuts. The final system is adaptable to multiple uses at different scales and sizes. The material’s customisable nature makes it ideal for use in health care, disaster relief, as an educational tool, interior elements, packaging and even gardening.