Biomimetics: attachments inspired by nature

biomimetics heavy equipment attachment

While a June bug is likely seen as a pest inside most workplaces, at Nye Manufacturing, the insect serves as an opportunity to build better attachments.

At the Mississauga, Ontario-based company, June bugs are dissected and examined to understand how the bug’s mandibles — the pair of limbs near the insect’s mouth — have evolved to grip material.

“Those June bug mandibles are dialled in. Those work for a June bug brilliantly,” said Mark Nye, president of Nye Manufacturing.

“The slenderness ratio, like the length to width ratio and the arch on the outside, might give you some inspiration. You look at that design and see how that might be beneficial.”

However, Nye doesn’t attempt to replicate the insect’s mandible. Instead the bug is used as inspiration for attachment design.

“We study them and get our inspiration from them,” Nye said. “A mandible is good for grabbing other June bugs, or whatever they eat, but maybe it’s not as good for demolition.”

The practice of incorporating traits found in nature for engineering is known as biomimetics. Nye explained the approach is used as often as possible when the company sets out to design a new attachment.

excavator attachments ontario“You’re leveraging literally millions and millions of years of evolution for such a variety of mechanical functions. It’s a vast resource to be able to take from,” Nye said. “Anything alive today is fricking fantastic at what it does, otherwise it would be dead.”

Biomimetics 101

Entry-level biomimetics starts with ensuring an attachment’s design doesn’t include sharp corners.

“In nature, you don’t see any animals with sharp corners,” Nye said.

For example, if a plate has a notch in it for hydraulic hoses to pass by on each side of a hammer frame, sharp corners would produce a stress concentration where the material may tend to rip, according to Nye.

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“When you draw something, show some effort. It’s easy to sit in front of AutoCAD and make a beautiful shape,” Nye said. “Spend an extra five or 10 minutes to make an elliptical arch rather than a plain arch, or worse, a sharp corner.

“There’s no increase in plate usage and no increase in burning time or cost of the product.”

The shape of attachment teeth is another area where incorporating biomimetic design is beneficial.

heavy equipment attachmentFor Nye, pyramid-shaped teeth just don’t cut it.

“The shape of the teeth is something I really concentrate on and get right,” Nye said. “It has to be strong, it has to be sharp and it’s important for it to stay sharp and wear in a desirable fashion.”

When used to build a concrete pulverizer, for example, sharp inside corners are prone to cracking due to stress concentrations.

“Those sharp corners will wear almost immediately,” he said.

“The proper shape can be seen in nature, if you look at any animal’s teeth or shark’s teeth, and you take your cues from them.”

The attachment design also pulls inspiration from various facets of nature, rather than a single animal or insect. The XCP4 Pulverizer, for example, incorporates biomimetics trhough tooth shapes and arrangement, side plates shaped like a tree trunk, a ripper like a claw and a re-pointer similar to a fingernail.

“You blend them. You don’t just copy. You see what you can learn and you blend,” Nye said.

When he first began incorporating biomimetics into engineering, Nye explained he would contemplate the best shape to complete the task at hand.

excavator attachment“I would sit and study what’s the best shape to make this. And I would say ‘hey that looks like a rhino horn.’ So not all of it is inspired by nature, you just realize it after the fact,” he said.

Nye Manufacturing’s DGX demolition grapples were inspired by an outing at Red Lobster. Nye examined the lobster claw and discovered an ideal grip for working in demolition.

“You see the inside of their claws have lumps all along them. When they grip something, it’s seized, it can’t slip out. What a great thing for a grapple,” Nye said.

As well, the attachment’s tips are tapered like an animal’s tooth to allow the grapple to penetrate material. However, the tips purposely avoid taking on a fang-like shape.

“You have to use your judgement, some of those traits are for gripping meat. Sharp fangs, like a dog has, may or may not be suitable for the application,” Nye said. “For demolition, you don’t really want fangs, you don’t want a deep penetration. But if it’s a stump harvester, we have that one fang-inspired penetrator tooth. You need that to penetrate the wood to split it.”

Nye’s SHX Stump Harvester and TRX T-Rex Pulverizer include inspiration from the jaw of a Wahoo Fish, which Nye discovered while on vacation.

“We were fishing in The Bahamas and caught these Wahoo. Their jaws bypass one another like a pair of tin snips,” Nye said. “If it were to close its mouth, it would shear your finger right off.”

The stump harvester is designed with dual anvil shears that bypass each other like the Wahoo jaw.

“The teeth don’t clash against one another the way human teeth do,” Nye said. “For a stump harvester, its better if the blade bypasses.”

The T-Rex Pulverizer also features the Wahoo jaw via side bars that shear. As well, the pulverizer is designed with incisor teeth for picking and snapping, pre-molars, molars and holes in the base plate that allow material to pass through the attachment.

“It’s like it’s consuming it and swallowing it down its throat,” Nye said.

Alongside the fascination with science, Nye sees incorporating Mother Nature’s designs as a key to building better attachments.

“My name is welded on the side. My father is 94 years old and he’s here every day, and my children are here every day,” Nye said. “I want our stuff to be as good as it can be.”