It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a…hot air balloon?
Anyone who has seen the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade is by now familiar with some of the feats of art and design managed by those in the inflatable space. And with a host of new technologies and tools, designers of hot air balloons are able to be more creative than ever.
First the designer starts off with nothing but their imagination. From there they use 3D CAD to design inflatables from the familiar faces to contemporary works of art.
Manufacturing Inflatable Designs
But how to manufacture such a large and often awkwardly shaped designs? In the past, inflatables had to be planned out faaaarr in advance. The timely process of creating a perfect shape, and then somehow translating the design work into a 2D pattern to cut, and manufacture into a balloon was nothing more than a feat of love and labor. Of course, if anything was even slightly off, as often happens, it was back to the beginning to try all over again.
That is until 10 years ago. What changed then? Pattern flattening software stepped into the spotlight.
What is Pattern Flattening?
It is the process of taking those hard efforts of the designers’ work in 3D CAD and using a tool, like the leading pattern flattening software of ExactFlat, to quickly and accurately convert 3D model into a 2D pattern pieces. Using this type of software allows manufacturers to produce a strain-free, 2D flattened pattern of the 3D work of art. Because this process ties the 3D and 2D models together it eliminates the traditional trial and error approach! It is the most cost-effective way to convert innovative designs to perfect patterns in minutes.
An essential role in ensuring accurate manufacturing of the inflatable is piece labeling and seam alignment via notches. For years this part of the process was left to human calculation in order to best guesstimate where each piece goes. Boundary breaking industry tools like ExactFlat have been specifically designed to automate this precise step in the manufacturing process.
Once the measurements are set, the design can be cut and put together to create some amazing inflatable pieces!
Just check out some of the unique designs created by hot air balloon leaders Cameron Balloons using the ExactFlat pattern flattening software!
A Shift in Inflatables
While the masses don’t seem to be tiring of creative hot air balloon designs any time soon (just check out the popular event Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta), innovation is always a welcome site in any industry.
Changes in materials and production support software like ExactFlat are enabling a new genesis in design innovations. These innovations include the products from Solar Ship, the next generation in heavy lifting.
What is Solar Ship?
The team at Solar Ship produces a hybrid aircraft – part bush plane, part airship – powered by solar panels, lifted by helium, and designed to access some of world’s most hard-to-reach places, where roads don’t exist and planes can’t land. Their customers focus primarily on reaching areas in need of disaster relief where conventional means of re-supply are almost impossible.
Solar Ship provides several different vessel-types and various sizes depending on the type of terrain, service distance, and cargo specs of each mission. Unlike traditional helium airships that tend to be more cigar-shaped in design, the solarship is powered partially by solar panels that stretch across the wide flattened surface design. Unlike a traditional ballon, it is also heavier than air in order to endure various environmental factors.
Additionally because the solarship is part aircraft, its speeds often exceed that of a traditional balloon calling for more durable materials. All of these varying constraints dictate that each aircraft is virtually a one-of-a-kind design. An engineering and manufacturing feat that Solar Ship could not accomplish and still fit within their client’s budget and time limitations without the use of 3D CAD and pattern flattening software. With these automation tools, designs can be easily shifted to fit the various sizes and models of the solar ship craft. Performance and stress simulations can be done early in the process and production can be completed quickly with less trial and error.
Where Else Will Inflatables Take Us in the Future?
Where else will inflatables take us in the future? As hybrid designs take flight and air delivery of products (i.e., Amazon’s drone delivery) becomes more commonplace, we expect to see a lot more in the space of inflatable design innovations!