Tensegrity structures are constructed from an assembled system of cables and struts in a manner that is often innovative and visually interesting. These structures are designed so that each member is subjected to only pure tension, or pure compression. The cables members take the tension in the structure and the struts carry the compression. The concept of tensegrity structures originated from the works of Kenneth Snelson and Buckminster Fuller. Galen MacLusky, a 4th year student in the Department of Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, decided to base his Mechanical Engineering Project Course (ME482) around the design of a tensegrity-style structure. He chose to design, construct and test a tensegrity structure that would serve as a coffee table base. The goals of his project were to create an attractive object, one that could support the expected loads for coffee tables, and to incorporate an innovative tensegrity system. Four design stages were examined during his project: needs analysis, conceptual design, embodiment design, and finally construction and testing.
This case study is intended for introduction to some of the basic methods and principles used in the design of tensegrity-based structures, including Numerical Modelling/ Finite Element Methods (FEM) analysis, prototype construction, and fabrication.