MaxiFab was a group project for my fabrication class that seeks to apply rapid prototyping processes to build affordable and accessible menstrual products. One of the outcomes for this project were layered menstrual pads that we not only cut but also fused and assembled within a laser cutter.
Inspired by the “LaserStacker” research by Udayan et al. in which multiple sheets of acrylic could be selectively fused and welded by defocusing the laser head, we applied this technique to creating layered textiles. Cloth menstrual pads often consist of layers of cotton, flannel and wool fabrics to increase absorption while retaining comfort during wear and ability to be washed for reuse. Fusing these pieces together within the laser cutter would allow the pads to be cut and affixed to the layers. By creating a process that could fuse these various layer, the pads can be cut and affixed, thus assembled, within the laser cutter.
To fuse the layers together, we used no-sew fusible web, a heat sensitive adhesive used to bond textiles together. A layer of the fusible web was first applied to the back of a rectangular piece of flannel which is then positioned on top of another piece of flannel in the laser cutting bed. We then ran a series of tests to determine what speed / power settings and z-axis height is needed to apply enough heat to fuse the two fabrics together without damaging the top layer. This was done by lowering the laser cutter bed by increments of .25” at different settings until the two fabrics were successfully bound together with minimal damage. For our tests, we ran the laser cutter using the etching mode in order to form shapes rather than just outlines. This would allow the textiles to be fused across a greater surface area therefore increasing the strength of the adhesion.
Our pad prototype is made by fusing and cutting two pieces of flannel in the laser cutter. We designed a pad with specific areas to be fused to maximize flexibility and hold. In the laser cutter, the bed was lowered to defocus the laser and adhere the two pieces together. An outline was then trimmed around the fused areas using normal cut settings. This operation created an assembled, layered pad within the confines of a laser cutter. We also experimented with creating soft toggles that would eliminate the need of velcro or adhesives to keep the pad in place during use.
The process of fusing textiles within a laser cutter can allow for customized fabrication of pads in both design and materials, along with providing an alternative method for creating inexpensive but functional pads. Further research would include experimenting with layering and fusing three or more pieces of fabric in variable weights and materials to create a design that would maximize absorption and comfort in wearability. This would also involve usability tests in order to determine if this pad meets the needs protection and ease of use for different users.
Udayan Umapathi, Hsiang-Ting Chen, Stefanie Mueller, Ludwig Wall, Anna Seufert, and Patrick Baudisch. 2015. LaserStacker: Fabricating 3D Objects by Laser Cutting and Welding. In Proceedings of the 28th Annual ACM Symposium on User Interface Software & Technology (UIST ’15). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 575-582. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1145/2807442.2807512