Custom Inflatables Are Only A Laser Beam Away

Carl Sagan one said “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” It might not be a very accurate description of the relative difficulty level of baking, but the logic is sound enough: there’s often a lot of ground work that needs to be to covered before you hit your ultimate goal. A perfect example of this principle is the inflatable raft that [ralph124c] hopes to eventually create; before he can set sail he has to perfect making balloon animals with his laser cutter.

In the long run, the raft will be constructed from sheets of TPU coated fabric that are fused together with a hot iron. But before he spends the time and money on building the real thing, he wants to do some scaled down tests to make sure his design works as expected. He makes a cryptic remark about learning the hard way that inflatables are prone to bouts of strange behavior, and out of an overabundance of caution we’ll just take his word for it.

He hoped to test his designs with the much cheaper LDPE film, but he found that the hot iron didn’t fuse it together in the way he was hoping. His mind turned to his 60 watt laser cutter, and wondered if the desired effect could be achieved by turning the power down as low as possible and quickly moving across the material.

His first attempts either blew right through the film or did absolutely nothing, but eventually he had the bright idea to move the laser farther from the LDPE. This put the beam out of focus, which not only expanded the area it would cover, but reduced the energy being delivered to the surface. With a bit more experimentation, he found he was able to neatly weld the pieces of material together. He even found that he could increase the power slightly to cut through the film without having to adjust the laser focus. With the ability to create complex inflatable shapes, perhaps [ralph124c] will create balloon version of Carl Sagan or an apple pie to celebrate.

Of course, this technology isn’t limited to birthday balloons and model rafts. The ability to quickly and easily produce custom inflatable shapes could be a huge boon to anyone working in soft robotics, and we’ve even seen similar concepts applied to haptic feedback systems.

[Thanks to Arthur for the tip.]

25 thoughts on “Custom Inflatables Are Only A Laser Beam Away

    1. I think it is all blown out of proportion.
      I didn’t mean to deflate your enthusiasm, but recent news leaks indicate some economists believe that the inflatables market is a bubble that is about to burst.
      So, don’t give in to the pressure, some air heads may be just trying to pump up their portfolios, or blow smoke up your @$$.
      So, just in case the market goes flat, you should be prepared to re-tire.
      Of course, you could just blow off my recommendations, some critics say I’m full of hot air.

  1. Quoth the text:

    “which not only expanded the area it would cover, but reduced the energy being delivered to the surface”

    Sorry. Us engineer types gotta nit picks. It’s our lifeblood.

    The energy delivered (assuming equal time & power) will be constant. What you reduce is the energy density.

    But hey :-P

    1. Well, if you really want to nit-pick, wouldn’t a diffused beam pass through a greater volume of air and lenses, and thus lose more energy?

      But I think it’s clear from the context what he understood and meant.

    2. Sorry. Us engineer types gotta nit picks. It’s our lifeblood.

      More distance between lens and surface equals more air molecules in between equals more scattered light going elsewhere equals less energy at the surface.

      The principal point you addressed stands, of course…

  2. White plastic garbage bags would make great stock for large cheap inflatable light diffusers of whatever shape is needed. Initially that sounds like a good idea but it is starting to settle in that it is unlikely that such items would stay inflated over the years.

    1. Might not last for years, but would be great for a weekend event, or maybe months. Cheap and widely available, for short term use, is a great solution. Material that would be expected to last years, would cost a lot more, and you could probably expect on some failures, before you achieved the effect you hoped for. Maybe some areas, you could expect an inflatable to last many years, but in Florida… Probably not make through even one. Inflatables are generally a temporary display anyway, not expect to stay up for years and years.

    2. Of course not. One of the benefits of inflatable items is, that you can deflate them for storage. They are, of course, not so much suited for a permanent installation.

  3. When someone orders just one specific item from Amazon to be shipped via amazon-prime, there should be an optimal box and optimal inflatable bag shape for that item. It would be cool if the packing robot could quickly print and inflate the needed packing to make for rattle-free shipping after it puts item, bag, and box together.

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