CROSS-REFERENCES TO RELATED APPLICATIONS
This application is a Continuation of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/384,216 filed Mar. 16, 2006, which claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Application No. 60/663,392 filed Mar. 17, 2005, and the '216 application is a Continuation-in-Part of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/672,766 filed Sep. 26, 2003 and now U.S. Pat. No. 7,152,449 B2, which is a Continuation-in-Part of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/256,870 filed Sep. 26, 2002 and now U.S. Pat. No. 6,877,349 B2, which is a Continuation-in-Part of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 09/640,267 filed Aug. 17, 2000 and now U.S. Pat. No. 6,481,259 B1. All the above applications are incorporated herein for all purposes by reference in their entirety.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
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1. Technical Field
The present invention relates, in general, to the designing and precision folding of sheets of material and the manufacture of structures therefrom. More particularly, the present invention relates to processes of designing, preparing and manufacturing, including, but not limited to, ways of preparing sheet material, in order to enable precision folding and to the use of such processes for rapid two-dimension- to- three-dimensional folding of high strength, fatigue-resistant structures or assemblies.
2. Description of Related Art
A commonly encountered problem in connection with bending sheet material is that the locations of the bends are difficult to control because of bending tolerance variations and the accumulation of tolerance errors. For example, in the formation of the housings for electronic equipment, sheet metal is bent along a first bend line within certain tolerances. The second bend, however, often is positioned based upon the first bend, and accordingly, the tolerance errors can accumulate. Since there can be three or more bends which are involved to create the chassis or enclosure for the electronic components, the effect of cumulative tolerance errors in bending can be significant. Moreover, the tolerances that are achievable will vary widely depending on the bending equipment, and its tooling, as well as the skill of the operator.
One approach to this problem has been to try to control the location of bends in sheet material through the use of slitting or grooving. Slits and grooves can be formed in sheet stock very precisely, for example, by the use of computer numerically controlled (CNC) devices which control a slit or groove farming apparatus, such as a laser, water jet, punch press, knife or other tool.
Referring to FIG. 1, a sheet of material 21 is shown which has a plurality of slits or grooves 23 aligned in end-to-end, spaced apart relation along a proposed bend line 25. Between pairs of longitudinally adjacent slits or grooves are bending webs, splines or straps 27 which will be plastically deformed upon bending of sheet 21. Webs 27 hold the sheet together as a single member. When grooves that do not penetrate through sheet 21 are employed, the sheet of material is also held together by the web of material behind each groove.
The location of grooves or slits 23 in sheet 21 can be precisely controlled so as to position the grooves or slits on bend line 25 within relatively close tolerances. Accordingly, when sheet 21 is bent after the grooving or slitting process, the bend occurs at a position that is very close to bend line 25. Since slits can be laid out on a flat sheet of material precisely, the cumulative error is much less in such a bending process, as compared to one in which bends are formed by a press brake, with each subsequent bend being positioned by reference to the preceding bend.
Nevertheless, even a grooving-based or slitting-based bending of sheet material has its problems. First, the stresses in bending webs or straps 27, as a result of plastic deformation of the webs and slitting at both ends of webs 27, are substantial and concentrated. For grooving, the stresses on the material behind or on the back side of the groove also are substantial and very concentrated. Thus, failures at webs 27 and/or behind grooves 23 can occur. Moreover, the grooves or slits do not necessarily produce bending of webs 27 directly along bend line 25, and the grooving process is slow and inconsistent, particularly when milling or point cutting V-shaped grooves. Grooving, therefore, is not in widespread commercial use.
As can be seen in FIGS. 1A and 1B, if sheet 21 is slit, as is shown at 23a and/or grooved, as shown at 23b, and then bent, bending webs 27a and 27b will experience plastic deformation and residual stress. For slit 23a, of course, material will be completely removed or severed along the length of the slit. For V-shaped groove 23b, there will be a thin web 29 between groove 23b and the convex outside of the bend, but it also will be plastically deformed and highly stressed. The bend for V-shaped grooving will normally be in a direction closing groove 23b so that the side faces come together, as shown in FIG. 1B. Loading of the bent structure of FIGS. 1A and 1B with a vertical force FV and/or a horizontal force FH will place the bend, with the weakening slits and/or grooves and the plastically deformed straps or webs 27a, 27b, as well as thin web 29, under considerable stress. Failure of the structure will occur at lower force levels than if a non-slitting or non-grooving bending process was used.
Another scheme for sheet slitting to facilitate bending has been employed in the prior art. The slitting technique employed to produce bends, however, was designed primarily to produce visual or decorative effects for a sculptural application. The visual result has been described as “stitching,” and the bends themselves have been structurally reinforced by beams. This stitched sculpture was exhibited at the New York Museum of Modern Art by at least 1998, and the sheet slitting technique is described in Published U.S. Patent Application U.S. 2002/0184936 A1, published on Dec. 12, 2002, (the “Gitlin, et al Application.”). The sculpture is also shown and described in the publication entitled “Office dA” by Contemporary World Architects, pp. 15, 20-35, 2000. FIGS. 2, 2A and 2B of the present drawing show one example of the stitching technique employed.
One embodiment of the Office dA or Gitlin, et al. Application is shown in FIG. 2. A plurality of slits 31 is formed in a sheet material 32. Slits 31 are linear and offset laterally of each other along opposite sides of a bend line 33. The slits can be seen to longitudinally overlap so as to define what will become bending splines, webs, straps or “stitches” 34 between the overlapped slit ends. FIGS. 2A and 2B show an enlarged side elevation view of one end of one slit in sheet 32, which has been bent along bend line 33 by 90 degrees, and sheet portions 35 and 36 on opposite sides of the bend line are interconnected by the twisted straps or “stitches” 34, which twist or stitch between the 90 degree sheet portions 35, 36. The architects of the New York Museum of Modern Art sculpture recognized that the resulting bend is not structurally very strong, and they have incorporated partially hidden beams welded into the sculpture in the inner vertices of each of the stitched bends.
Since slits 31 are parallel to bend line 33, straps 34, which also have a constant or uniform width dimension, are twisted or plastically deformed in torsion over their length, with the result that at the end of a 90° bend a back side of the strap engages face 38 on the other side of slit 31 at position 37. Such engagement lifts sheet portion 35 up away from face 38 on sheet portion 36, as well as trying to open end 40 of the slit and producing further stress at the slit end. The result of the twisting of straps 34 and the lifting at the end of the bend is a gap, G, over the length of slit 31 between sheet portion 35 and face 38. Twisted straps or stitches 34 force sheet portion 35 off of face 38 and stress both slit ends 40 (only one slit end 40 is shown but the same stress would occur at the other slit end 40 of the slip 31 shown in FIGS. 2A and 2B).
Gaps G are produced at each slit 31 along the length of bend line 33 on alternative sides of the bend line. Thus, at each slit a sheet portion is forced away from contact with a slit-defining face instead of being pulled into contact with, and thus full support by, the face.
Moreover, and very importantly, the slitting configuration of FIG. 2 stresses each of straps 34 to a very high degree. As the strap length is increased (the length of overlap between the ends of slits 31) to attempt to reduce the stress from twisting along the strap length, the force trying to resiliently pull or clamp a sheet portion against an opposing face reduces. Conversely, as strap length 34 is decreased, twisting forms micro tears in the constant width straps with resultant stress risers, and the general condition of the twisted straps is that they are overstressed. This tends to compromise the strength of the bend and leaves a non-load bearing bend.
A vertical force (Fv in FIG. 2B) applied to sheet portion 35 will immediately load twisted and stressed strap 34, and because there is a gap G the strap will plastically deform further under loading and can fail or tear before the sheet portion 35 is displaced down to engagement with and support on face 38. A horizontal force FH similarly will tend to crush the longitudinally adjacent strap 34 (and shear strap 34 in FIG. 2B) before gap G is closed and the sheet portion 35 is supported on the opposing slit face 38.
Another problem inherent in the slitting scheme of FIGS. 2-2B and the Gitlin, et al. Application is that the constant strap width cannot be varied independently of the distance between slits, and the strap width cannot be less than the material thickness without stressing the straps to the extreme. When slits 31 are parallel to each other and longitudinally overlapping, the strap width, by definition, must equal the spacing or jog between slits. This limits the flexibility in designing the bends for structural loading of the straps. Still further, the slits terminate with every other slit end being aligned and directed toward the other. There is no attempt, therefore, to reduce stress risers and micro-crack propagation from occurring at the ends of the slits, and aligned slit ends can crack under loading.
The sheet slitting configuration of FIGS. 2-28, therefore, can be readily employed for decorative bends, but it is not optimally suited for bends which must provide significant structural support and fatigue resistance.
The Gitlin et al. Application also teaches the formation of curved slits (in FIGS. 10a, 10b), but the slits again parallel a curved bend line so that the width of the bending straps is constant, the straps extend along and parallel to the bend line, not across it, the straps are twisted in the extreme, the slit ends tend to direct micro-cracks and stress concentrations to the next slit, and the application teaches employing a slit kerf which results in engagement of the opposite side of the slit, at 37, only at the end of the bend.
A simple linear perforation technique also was used by the same architects in an installation of bent metal ceiling panels in a pizza restaurant in Boston. Again, the bent sheet components by linear perforation were not designed to bear significant unsupported loads along the bends.
Slits, grooves, perforations, dimples and score lines also have been used in various patented systems as a basis for bending sheet material. U.S. Pat. No. 5,225,799 to West et al., for example, uses a grooving-based technique to fold up a sheet of material to form a microwave wave guide or filter. In U.S. Pat. No. 4,628,161 to St. Louis, score lines and dimples are used to fold metal sheets. In U.S. Pat. No. 6,210,037 to Brandon, slots and perforations are used to bend plastics. The bending of corrugated cardboard using slits or die cuts is shown in U.S. Pat. No. 6,132,349 and PCT Publication WO 97/24221 to Yokoyama, and U.S. Pat. Nos. 3,756,499 to Grebel et al. and 3,258,380 to Fischer, et al. Bending of paperboard sheets also has been facilitated by slitting, as is shown in U.S. Pat. Nos. 5,692,672 to Hunt, 3,963,170 to Wood and 975,121 to Carter. Published U.S. Patent Application No. US 2001/0010167 A1 also discloses a metal bending technique involving openings, notches and the like and the use of great force to produce controlled plastic flow and reduced cracking and wrinkling.
In most of these prior art bending systems, however, the bend forming technique greatly weakens the resulting structure, or precision bends are not capable of being formed, or bending occurs by crushing the material on one side of the bend. Moreover, when slitting is used in these prior art systems, in addition to structural weakening and the promotion of future points of structural failure, the slitting can make the process of sealing a bent structure expensive and difficult. These prior art methods, therefore, are less suitable for fabricating structures that are capable of containing a fluid or flowable material.
The problems of precision bending and retention of strength are much more substantial when bending metal sheets, and particularly sheets of substantial thickness. In many applications it is highly desirable to be able to bend metal sheets with low force, for example, by hand with only hand tools, or with only moderately powered tools. Such bending of thick metal sheets, of course, poses greater problems.
In another aspect of the present invention the ability to overcome prior art deficiencies in slitting-based bending of sheet material is applied to eliminate deficiencies in prior art metal fabrication techniques and the structures resulting therefrom.
A well known prior art technique for producing rigid three-dimensional structures is the process of cutting and joining together parts from sheet and non-sheet material. Jigging and welding, clamping and adhesive bonding, or machining and using fasteners to join together several discrete parts has previously been extensively used to fabricate rigid three-dimensional structures. In the case of welding, for example, a problem arises in the accurate cutting and jigging of the individual pieces; the labor and machinery required to manipulate a large number of parts, as well as the quality control and certification of multiple parts. Additionally, welding has the inherent problem of dimensional shape warping caused by the heat-affected zone of the weld.
Traditional welding of metals with significant material thickness is usually achieved by using parts having beveled edges often made by grinding or single point tools, which add significantly to the fabrication time and cost. Moreover, the fatigue failure of heat-affected metals is unpredictable for joints whose load-bearing geometries rely entirely on welded, brazed or soldered materials. Fatigue failure of welds usually is compensated for by increasing the mass of the components, which are welded together and the number and depth of the welds. The attendant disadvantage of such over design is, of course, excessive weight.
With respect to adhesively bonding sheet and non-sheet material along the edges and faces of discrete components, a problem arises from the handling and accurate positioning the several parts and holding or clamping them in place until the bonding method is complete.
Another class of prior art techniques related to the fabrication of three-dimensional structures are the Rapid Prototyping methods. These include stereo lithography and a host of other processes in which a design is produced using a CAD system and the data representation of the structure is used to drive equipment in the addition or subtraction of material until the structure is complete. Prior art Rapid Prototyping techniques are usually either additive or subtractive.
The problems associated with subtractive Rapid Prototyping methods are that they are wasteful of materials in that a block of material capable of containing the entire part is used and then a relatively expensive high-speed machining center is required to accurately mill and cut the part by removal of the unwanted material.
Problems also exist with prior art additive Rapid Prototyping techniques. Specifically, most such techniques are optimized for a very narrow range of materials. Additionally, most require a specialized fabrication device that dispenses material in correspondence with the data representing the part. The additive Rapid Prototyping processes are slow, very limited in the scale of the part envelope and usually do not make use of structurally robust materials.
Generally in the prior art, therefore, sheet slitting or grooving to enable sheet bending has produced bends, which lack the precision and strength necessary for commercial structural applications. Thus, such prior art sheet bending techniques have been largely relegated to light gauge metal bending or decorative applications, such as sculpture.
In a broad aspect of the present invention, therefore, it is an important object of the present invention to be able to bend sheet material in a very precise manner and yet produce a bend, which is capable of supporting substantial loading and is resistant to fatigue failures.
Another object of this aspect of the present invention is to provide a method for precision bending of sheets of material using improved slitting techniques, which enhance the precision of the location of the bends, the strength of the resulting structures and reduce stress-induced failures.
Another object of the present invention is to provide a precision sheet bending process and a sheet of material which has been slit or grooved for bending and which can be used to accommodate bending of sheets of various thicknesses and of various types of non-crushable materials.
Another object of the present invention is to provide a method for slitting sheets for subsequent bending that can be accomplished using only hand tools or power tools which facilitate bending but do not attempt to control the location of the bend.
Another object of the present invention is to be able to bend sheet material into high strength, three-dimensional structures having precise dimension tolerances.
It is another object of the present invention to be able to bend sheet materials into precise three-dimensional structures that are easily and inexpensively sealed thus enabling the containment of fluid or Plowable materials.
In a broad aspect of the present invention relating to the use of slit-based bending to enhance fabrication and assembly techniques, it is an object of the present invention to provide a new Rapid Prototyping and Advanced Rapid Manufacturing technique that employs a wide range of materials including many that are structurally robust, does not employ specialized equipment other than what would be found in any modem fabrication facility, and can be scaled up or down to the limits of the cutting process used.
It is another object of this aspect of the present invention to provide features within the sheet of material to be bent that assist in the accurate additive alignment of components prior to and after the sheet material is bent.
A further object of the present invention is to provide a fabrication method that serves as a near-net-shape structural scaffold for multiple components arranged in 3D space in the correct relationship to each other as defined by the original CAD design process.
It is a further object of the present invention to provide a method of fabricating welded structures that employs a smaller number of separate parts and whose edges are self jigging along the length of the bends and whose non-bent edges provide features that facilitate jigging and clamping in preparation for welding. In this context it is yet another object of the present invention to provide a superior method of jigging sheet materials for welding that dramatically reduces warping and dimensional inaccuracy caused by the welding process.
Yet another object of the present invention is to provide a novel welded joint that provides substantial load-bearing properties that do not rely on the heat affected zone in all degrees of freedom and thereby improve both the loading strength and cyclical, fatigue strength of the resulting three-dimensional structure.
Still another object of the present invention is to provide a superior method for:
1) reducing the number of discrete parts required to fabricate a strong, rigid, dimensionally accurate three-dimensional structure, and
2) inherently providing a positioning and clamping method for the various sides of the desired three-dimensional structure that can be accomplished through the bent and unbent edges of the present invention resulting in a lower cost, higher yield fabrication method.
It is a further object of the present invention to provide a method of fabricating a wide variety of fluid containing casting molds for metals, polymers, ceramics and composites in which the mold is formed from a slit, bent, sheet of material which can be either removed after the solidification process or left in place as a structural or surface component of the finished object.
Still another object of the present invention is to provide a sheet bending method that is adaptable for use with existing slitting devices, enables sheet stock to be shipped in a flat or coiled condition and precision bent at a remote location without the use of a press brake, and enhances the assembly or mounting of components within and on the surfaces in the interior of enclosures formed by bending of the sheet stock after component affixation to the sheet stock.
Still another object of the present invention is to provide a precision folding technique that can be used to create accurate, precise, load-bearing folds in sheets of material, including but not limited to, metals, plastics, and composites.
Another object of the present invention is to provide a precision folding technique that allows folding around a virtual bend line and requires considerably less force to accomplish the fold than conventional bending techniques.
Another object of the present invention is to provide a precision folding technique that is essentially linearly scalable independently of the thickness or microstructural characteristics of the material
Another object of the present invention is to form the geometries described herein whether by a slitting/removal process, a severing process or by an additive process, and arrive at the advantages herein described by any route.
Yet another object of the present invention is to provide a precision folding technique for folding a non-crushable material in which the microstructure of the material remains substantially unchanged around the fold.
The methods and discrete techniques for designing and precision folding of sheet material, the fabrication techniques therefor, and the structures formed from such precision bending of the present invention have other features and objects of advantage which will become apparent from, or are set forth in more detail in the following detailed description and accompanying drawings.
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In a broad aspect, a sheet of material for bending along a desired bending line includes bending strap-defining structures formed in the sheet. The strap-defining structures are positioned to define at least one bending strap in the sheet; the strap having a longitudinal strap axis that is oriented and positioned to extend across the bend line. Moreover, the strap defining structures are configured and positioned to produce bending of the sheet of material along the bend line.
In another aspect, a hollow beam includes two sheets of material. The first sheet of material is formed for bending along a plurality of first sheet bend lines by having a plurality of bending strap-defining structures positioned proximate each of the bend lines, with the bending strap-defining structures configured to produce bending along the bend lines. A hollow beam is formed by securing the first sheet of material, being bent along first sheet bend lines, to a second sheet of material.
In yet another aspect, an exoskeletal framework includes a single sheet of material formed for bending along a plurality of bend lines. The sheet of material is formed with a plurality of bending strap-defining structures positioned proximate each of the bend lines, and the bending strap-defining structures are configured to produce bending. Bending the sheet of material along the bend lines results in a framework of structural members.
The precision-folded, high strength, fatigue-resistant structures and sheet therefor of the present invention has other features and advantages which will be apparent from or are set forth in more detail in the accompanying drawings, which are incorporated in and form a part of this specification, and the following Detailed Description of the Invention, which together serve to explain the principles of the present invention.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
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FIG. 1 is a fragmentary, top plan view of a sheet of material having slits and grooves formed therein in accordance with one prior art technique.
FIG. 1A is an enlarged, fragmentary view, in cross section, taken substantially along the plane of line 1A-1A in FIG. 1, of the sheet of FIG. 1 when in a bent condition.
FIG. 1B is an enlarged, fragmentary view, in cross section, taken substantially along the plane of line 1B-1B of FIG. 1, of the sheet of FIG. 1 when in a bent condition.
FIG. 2 is a fragmentary, top plan view of a sheet of material having a plurality of slits formed therein using an alternative configuration known in the prior art.
FIG. 2A is an enlarged fragmentary side elevation -view of the sheet of FIG. 2 bend by about 90 degrees.
FIG. 2B is a cross-sectional view taken substantially along the plane of line 2B-2B in FIG. 2A.
FIG. 3 is a fragmentary, top plan view of a sheet of material slit in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention.
FIGS. 4A-4D are fragmentary, top plan views of a sheet of material which has been slit according to the embodiment of FIG. 3 and which is in the process of being bent from a flat plane in FIG. 4A to a 90 degrees bend in FIG. 4D.
FIGS. 5A-5A are fragmentary, cross-sectional views, taken substantially along the planes of lines 5A-5A, in FIGS. 4A-4D during bending of the sheet of material.
FIG. 6 is a top plan view of a sheet of material slit in accordance with a second embodiment of the present invention.
FIG. 7 is a top plan. view of the sheet of FIG. 6 after being bent by about 90 degrees.
FIG. 8 is an end view of the sheet of material of FIG. 7.
FIG. 8A is an enlarged, end elevation view, in cross section, of the sheet of material of FIG. 7 taken substantially along the plane of 8A-BA in FIG. 7 and rotated by about 45 degrees from FIG. 8.
FIG. 8B is an enlarged, end elevation view, in cross section, of the sheet of material of FIG. 7 taken substantially along the plane of 8B-8B in FIG. 7 and rotated by about 45 degrees from FIG. 8.
FIG. 9 is a fragmentary top plan view of a sheet of material slit according to a further alternative embodiment of the present invention.
FIG. 10 is a side elevation view of the sheet of FIG. 9 after bending by about 90 degrees.
FIG. 10A is a fragmentary cross-sectional view taken substantially along the plane of line 10A-10A in FIG. 10.
FIG. 11 is a fragmentary, top plan view of a schematic representation of a further alternative embodiment of a sheet of material having strap-defining structures constructed in accordance with the present invention.
FIG. 11A is a fragmentary top plan view of a slit of the configuration shown in FIG. 11 which has been formed using a rapid piercing laser cutting technique.
FIG. 12 is a fragmentary, top plan view of one sheet of material before bending and assembly into a curved box beam.
FIG. 13 is a side elevation view of a curved box beam constructed from two sheets of material each being slit as shown in FIG. 12.
FIG. 14 is an end elevation view of the beam of FIG. 13.
FIG. 15 is a top plan view of a sheet of material formed with strap-defining structures and configured for enclosing a cylindrical member.
FIG. 16 is a top perspective view of the sheet of material of FIG. 15 as bent along bend lines and mounted to enclose a cylindrical member.
FIG. 17 is a top perspective, exploded view of a corrugated assembly formed using a sheet of material formed in accordance with the present invention.