Inspired by nature’s ability to adapt, Re:flex is an accessible and affordable smart material that can move and change its shape in response to heat. It is the result of multidisciplinary, experiment-driven research that aims to translate technologies normally reserved to aerospace and aeronautics into everyday applications. Re:flex allows the creation of objects that can be reshaped and reused to suit their owner’s needs, providing an alternative to single-use plastic and extending the life of products.
What did you create?
Re:flex is a patent-pending shape memory material that can change its form in response to heat. You can heat it, deform it into a temporary shape, and cool it down to freeze it in place. When heated again, it returns to its original shape. This can be done at home using domestic tools such as a kettle or oven. Re:flex is composed of two regular materials that do not possess the shape memory effect separately, however, when put together in a composite structure they exhibit this property. The behaviour of Re:flex can be controlled by the geometry of the inner material, chemical composition of the core, along with the ratio of shell-to-core material. These parameters determine the transition temperature of the material, which can range from 50 to 100°C. This makes Re:flex suitable for different applications and climates. The project addresses two problems. Firstly, reusability of products: allowing the creation of objects that can be customised, reshaped and reused. Secondly, the accessibility of shape-memory materials: Re:flex aims to take shape-memory materials out of the lab and into the everyday by making them more affordable and easy to work with.
Why did you make it?
Our initial inspiration descended from the way that organisms in nature adapt to their environments by continuously making minor adjustments to their habitats. We felt that this was at odds with the way many products are made in the built environment today, which are often static and hence incapable of adapting to rapidly changing needs. We started by researching climate-responsive architecture but quickly realised that the smart materials required to implement these solutions were neither readily available nor affordable. So we decided to make our own. This led to the development of re:flex. The ability to use shape-memory materials in everyday products allows us to design and create products that are transformable and adaptable through continuous customisation. To demonstrate this, we have made three working prototypes: an arm cast that can be easily applied, removed and reused; a stool with reconfigurable joints; and a bicycle saddle that can be remoulded to suit its owner.
How did you make it?
Re:flex is the result of experiment-driven research into materials that can respond to physical stimuli. To make this material, we combine 3D modelling techniques with accessible computer-aided fabrication tools including 3D printing, CNC milling and laser-cutting. The more we make re:flex, the more we learn: by experimenting with different geometries and varying the parameters of the composite, we continuously refine and improve our making process as well as our understanding of the material’s behaviour and possibilities for applications.
Your entry’s specification
Re:flex can be made in virtually any shape and size. The tools and making techniques that we currently have access to require re:flex to be manufactured flat. The biggest objects we have made out of re:flex are about 30cm wide. We are looking into making re:flex in 3D shapes, and making much bigger or much smaller samples. For this we will need to develop new techniques and use different machines. At the moment we have around 20-30 samples of re:flex, in all kinds of sizes, shapes and colours. We exhibited them along with 2 product prototypes (a bicycle saddle and an arm cast) at the Dutch Design Week in 2019, where our space was 6m(l)*1m(w)*2.7m(h). Similarly to the material, we can be very flexible with the way we exhibit re:flex in a space. For pictures of the exhibition please visit our media kit on google drive: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1XvQNcdV7SFHdXCgvmzmiKopdvb1E0FjJ?usp=sharing