School of Civil Engineering

Mentor: Joe Gattas

Project Team: Stephen Joseph, Imaad Thassim, Casey Schackow, Thi My Tram (Stephanie) Ngo, Qiu Jing Chew, Sam Bate


Project Brief

The UQ Folded Structures Lab (UQ_FSL ) has numerous research projects investigating structural and architectural applications of folded geometries. Their latest project is a partnership with wasteforlife to develop building components out of waste materials (plastic, paper, construction/industrial waste, etc) using low-cost, distributed fabrication facilities located in several Sri Lankan communities. Students on this project will be tasked sourcing potentially suitable waste material and designing structural and semi-structural components from it. Project activities will therefore include prototype manufacture, experimental testing, weekly group meetings, and geometric, numerical, and theoretical structural analyses.  

Top figure: Flat and corrugated sheets made from waste composite plastic/paper (left). Folded waste composite channel section (right).


Project Report

The project commenced with a brainstorm of marketable and high-value components that do not require a performance criterion. The list of potential product designs was developed and classified according to their product function and manufacturability. Three potential designs were chosen and prototyped using 3mm cardboard, then using corrugated polypropylene and virgin plastic more prototypes were created to test cutting, folding and joining techniques.  

To test folding techniques a low-cost commercial heat gun was utilized but restricted to working 3mm corrugated PP as the heated area was small and dissipated before a fold was achieved. A strip heater easily folded 3mm PP, 1.5mm PC and 3mm HDPE, within 5 minutes. Lastly a living hinge was created using the hot press, a brass rod was melted into a PP sheet and was partially successfully in creating a hinge with 10 minutes.

A sub-team was challenged with developing efficient and repeatable shaping methods. Hand tools were found to be effective for 1mm PP, 1.5mm PC and ineffective for 3mm HDPE. A water jet cut steel mould was created which produced accurate PP models under the hot press. Material weight, spread, temperature, time and pressure were extensively investigated to produce an optimum model.

A second sub-team experimented with joining methods. A generic hot glue gun was unsuccessful in bonding material, a physical notch gave a firm bond between panels but only adequate for low-load applications. Third, heat press applications were explored which resulted in seam welding by lapping panels, this inevitably worked but lead to issues with excess material.

A final sub-team explored the development and testing of an economically viable plastics extrusion machine. The base design was adopted from the ‘Precious Plastics’ initiative; an open source low-cost plastic recycling ensemble developed by Dutch designer, Dave Hakkens, and tweaked to allow the use of readily available materials in Australia. 

Overall, the project and research teams developed viable solutions to several inefficiencies WFL were facing within their working model. A scoop, bucket and modular wall divider were designed using various researched construction techniques which are valuable to the beneficiaries involved.