The Inventor – Sam Lanahan

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Buckminster Fuller and Sam Lanahan 1979
Buckminster Fuller and the author 1979

Sam Lanahan is the inventor of C6XTY and president of Flextegrity, Inc. Following is his Foreword to the book “Flextegrity: Innovations in Structural Optimization“:

Sam Lanahan and Buckminster Fuller

I had the great good fortune to accompany Buckminster Fuller on his speaking tour of Southeast Asia in 1976. His impact on my life is immeasurable. Working out of a small basement studio in Raleigh, N.C. I began to construct tensegrities as art with the prospect of producing tables and useful designs.

Icosahedron Sculpture
Standing Icosahedron Sculpture 1979

To my knowledge, I was the first to use “curved” compression members in their construction. Although some might disagree with this statement, I stand by it. Snelson’s Bat Wing Piece appears to be a cantlivered effort and would not comport to Moto’s definition of what is a tensegrity (See Rene Motro’s Tensegrity- Structural Systems for the Future -page 19). Regrettably this is an academic debate and not the focus of this website.

My subsequent explorations into the geometry of “tensegrities” provided insights into the possibility that a “universal fabric” that could be woven from wire and struts. I took a harder look at tension and compression. Alas, I proved myself wrong (that is, I abandoned the thesis for using the Tensegrity paradigm) and arrived at an entirely different solution that is elegant, economical, structural stable, easy to produce and solves many structurally complex problems.

To be faithful, Kenneth Snelson is the progenitor of what has come to be known as ‘tensegrity’ – a R.B. Fuller term. Mr. Snelson’s work has inspired me. However, tensegrities, in their present construction, are neither practical in application nor do they lend themselves to machine assembly. It took a long time to come to that conclusion (read my musings on why the Flextegrity material is not a Tensegrity).

Sam Lanahan and Flextegrity

C6XTY ColorFrenzy Diagram
C6XTY and connectors attach to form arrays and lattices

For 25 years I carried around the idea for a single repeating unit that was structurally stable, connected to it’s neighbour, and reducing weight without sacrificing strength. During those years I went back to school for a graduate degree, started a successful software company (with the extraordinary contribution of many others) and did a major historic preservation project (my final stone piling project!). I could no longer ignore my passion for the subject so began anew my exploration for a universal fabric not to be confused with the “Fabric of the Universe.”

The Inventor - Sam Lanahan 1First, I stacked octahedral tensegrity cells into a tensile array. However, this time I realized that the outline of the icosahedron formed by the tensile elements was actually the omni-axial compression element (or thinking differently, its inverse). Then I realized that the lines of tension could be created from strategically placed interconnecting elements restraining the twelve degrees of freedom. Discontinuous compression in a tensile matrix.

I think it was by training that I question everything, and in this case the opposite was correct. I’ve spent the last six years nailing down the intellectual property (three patents, one pending), exploring different weave patterns, assembly techniques and understanding the basic structural elements of the array.


C6XTY drills down into the very geometry of the nano scale

The ‘Floret’ structure still continues to baffles many. Its origins are in two intertwined tetrahedrals, sometimes called the ‘bowtie’ crystal, that are formed by the three uppermost, central, and lowest three loci of the cubo-octahedral shape. C6XTY drills down into the very geometry of the nano scale. And, oh in passing, this is not cheap stuff!

In my years of entrepreneurial experience I know that while the insight might be mine alone, it takes a great team of people and many skills to exploit the potential of the idea and bring products to market. Sometimes it’s serendipitous, and other times you have to know when to change course and go in another direction. This wonderful journey continues as a result of outstanding contributions to my understanding of structures, fabrics and design from the following people: LaJean Lawson, George Laird, Jeff Miller, Dave Van Dyke, Kirby Urner, Jason West, Dan Mandish, Bill Giobbi, and Trevor Blake.


Advisory Board

Establishment of board member selection criteria in relationship to the company’s strategy and needs is in progress. We are seeking advisors and active angel investors with backgrounds in materials science / engineering, manufacturing, and distribution.


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