Aeronaut Automation

Automated Cutting Systems & Software

Patterning Inflatable Products

There doesn't appear to be any industry specific software for designing and patterning inflatables. (If you know of any, please let us know!)

Several different approches are taken to patterning these products.Designers we have spoken to use a wide range of software, some designing entirely in 2D and others in 3D and 2D. Software includes Rhino, TouchCAD, AutoCAD and Vectorworks.Frequently patterns need small adjustmentsusing experience to give the desired end result.

When designing inflatable animals, a useful technique can be to get a child's soft toy, cut it up along the seam lines and then scan the patterns with a camera or just a desktop scanner. Then the digital scans can be auto-traced in software, imported into CAD software and scaled up to the right size for the finished job.

Most 3D software can be used to create inflatables, but the key feature is flattening. Programs such as TouchCAD have flattening and seam allowances built-in but for other software such as Vectorworks, you can flatten shapes but you need to add seam allowances yourself. (Aeronaut has developed plug-in seam allowance tools for Vectorworks.)

Bouncy Castle

Once you understand thebasictechniques, designing something like this bouncy castle, done in Vectorworks, is comparatively easy. The shape of the ends of the horizontal tubes which form the walls is quite complex, partly because they intersect a conical tower. However, it's only a few seconds for 3D CAD software to work this out when flattening these patterns.

The same ideas can be used with bouncy castles, water slides and RIB tubes. A series of tubes are generated, rotated to the right angles in 3D space, sliced up at their intersections and flattened to produce patterns which accurately represent the shape of the tube.

Intersecting Tube Patterns

Most flattening quite quick and simple to do although it is easy to lose track of patterns if you are not careful. Colouring parts in different colours can help. In the picture below, the patterns have been colour coded before flattening so their unfolded shapes can be identified. In this case, the lower three tubes are symmetrical so only one side has been developed. To get the full set of patterns, the symmetrical parts are duplicated before nesting and cutting.

Colour coding patterns

Aeronaut has a series of technical notes on designing different types of inflatables. If you would like to see these,please contact us and we'll email you the PDF files.

Promotional shapes such as this inflatable Coke bottle from Canvasland in New Zealand can be good money earners and they are easy to do in programs like Vectorworks and TouchCAD.

Canvasland Coke Bottle

Software such as Optitex may be used to design 2D patterns, and using Runways very accurate 3D simulation, patterns are joined and inflated in the computer. The designer can then adjust the patterns and re-inflate until the desired result is obtained. The drawback with this approach is speed. This type of 3D rendering and simulation uses a lot of computer power and things can get really slow with a complex model.

Optitex Inflatable

Some designers work in 2D all the time, preferring the simplicity of 2D software, and making adjustments to pattern shapes to compensate for the effects of inflation based on their experience.

Other designers prefer to work the traditional way, and fabricate the entire structure by hand, digitising the patterns into the computer when the structure us correct.

Incept Marine NZ. Is there any immediate cause for alarm?

With marine hull and other inflatable products, especially for the factory just starting with automated cutting, one of the main problems is getting existing patterns digitised ready for cutting. On the other hand, once patterns are in the system, they can be copied, edited and backed up to a safe place a lot more easily than solid patterns, so the process is a very worthwhile investment.

Aeronaut automated cutters can be used in conjunction with the joystick and a bulls eye laser pointer, to manually digitise patterns. Patterns are placed on the vacuum table, and the machine jogged over the pattern using the laser pointer to capture points one by one. This is a moderately quick and accurate method of working.

Incept NZ Alaska

The Proliner tool can be used to digitise existing patterns. Many patterns are made of thick cardboard, MDF or plywood. The Proliner has a special tip designed to trace these types of patterns. The diameter of this tip can be compensated for in the Proliner software leading to very accurate and quickly digitised patterns.

Proliner pattern digitising probe

Alternatively, a digital camera and a program such as Aeronauts Silhouette can be used to digitise patterns. More than one pattern can be digised at once. Silhouette traces the digital photographs with a high level of accuracy in a very short time, typically less that 15 seconds.

Once all the principal patterns are digitised into the cutting system, the patterning hardware can be used for a host of patterning operations involved in marine fabrication.