MaxiFab - Advancing Period Technologies


In collaboration with Jen Liu - UC Boulder, Siyan Zhao - Carnegie Mellon, and Michael Rivera - Carnegie Mellon

This work has been presented at the 2018 Designing Interactive Systems Conference and the Youth Health Conference at UPMC, Pittsburgh.

TL; DR: MaxiFab is a multifaceted collaborative effort that addresses current shortcomings of menstrual technologies through the design + research of digital fabrication techniques. We explore using 3D printing to produce customizable frames for sanitary napkins and laser cutting to fabricate fused washable sanitary napkins. Our preliminary explorations resulted in menstrual products that address some of the most pressing problems with current period technologies—namely, access and cost barriers, waste, and lack of customization.


Human-centered Problem: Our work aims to reduce stigma regarding the discussion of menstruation while contextualizing the topic as an under-examined design research space.

Design Considerations: Prior research regarding period technologies highlighted three areas to consider in our designs: cost and access; waste; and customization

Design Research: 3D Printed Pad Frame The rise of affordable consumer-grade 3D printers has enabled people to make customized objects to fit their needs. We explored 3D printing to produce a pad frame: a durable, cheap, and reusable pad design that allows people to conveniently convert any fabric material they have at hand into a sanitary pad.

Inspired by the efficient design of a sandwich, our pad frame consists of two, 3D printed pieces that hold absorbent fabric material in the middle (Figure 1). The middle fabric can be cleaned and reused when needed. The frame parts are printed as two layers of PLA (0.2 mm in height) on a FolgerTech i3-2020 3D printer. The design, while flexible, is durable under bending and stress. We also experimented with two different clipping mechanisms, a snap-fit joint and an insert enclosure. We found the snap fit joints were easily broken. They were also bulky and rigid, making the pad frame uncomfortable to wear for hours. This motivated us to explore a simpler insert enclosure. The insert enclosure, motivated by an interlocking origami fold, only requires a thin flap on the edge, allowing us print the entire frame as a thin piece. The entire print is flexible along both the short and long edge. The design also leaves room for users to customize the pad backing with unique patterns or text. We believe this feature can encourage more people to explore fabrication techniques and technology

For future explorations, we will address usage-specific issues, such as side-leak, comfort, and mobility. We will also apply printed velcro on one side of the pad frame to anchor it to the inner side of the underwear. This will prevent the pad from moving when the user is in motion. While the current design is flexible, it is not soft enough against the skin for an extended period of use. We will consider flexible 3D printable materials such as Thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) or NinjaFlex filament to address these issues.

Figure 1: 3D printed frame

Figure 1: 3D printed frame

Fabric Fusion

Cloth menstrual pads consist of layers of cotton, flannel and wool fabrics to increase absorption while retaining comfort and the ability to be washed for reuse. We investigated using a laser cutter to assemble a layered cloth pad. Inspired by “LaserStacker” that selectively fused multiple sheets of acrylic using a defocused laser, we applied a similar technique with textiles that allows a pad to be cut and assembled within a laser cutter.

We fused layers of fabric together by incorporating fusible web, a heat-sensitive adhesive typically used to bond textiles together. A layer of the fusible web is first applied to the back of a rectangular piece of flannel. This piece of flannel is then positioned on top of another piece of flannel in the laser cutting bed.

Future research will experiment with fusing more layers of fabric in variable weights, thicknesses and materials to create designs that maximizes absorption and comfort when worn. Through a participatory design and user testing process, we plan to examine issues ranging from durability to the impact of a aesthetic shift from medical to expressive.