Researchers take printing into the fourth dimension

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder say they have added a fourth dimension to printing technology, opening up possibilities for the creation and use of adaptive, composite materials in manufacturing, packaging and biomedical applications.

A team led by H. Jerry Qi, associate professor of mechanical engineering at CU-Boulder, and his collaborator Martin L. Dunn of the Singapore University of Technology and Design has developed and tested a method for 4D printing.

The researchers incorporated shape memory polymer fibres into the composite materials used in traditional 3D printing, which results in the production of an object fixed in one shape that can later be changed to take on a new shape.

‘In this work, the initial configuration is created by 3D printing, and then the programmed action of the shape memory fibres creates time dependence of the configuration – the 4D aspect,’ Dunn said in a statement.

The 4D printing concept, which allows materials to self-assemble into 3D structures, was initially proposed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology faculty member Skylar Tibbits in April this year. Tibbits and his team combined a strand of plastic with a layer made out of a so-called smart material that could self-assemble in water.

‘We advanced this concept by creating composite materials that can morph into several different, complicated shapes based on a different physical mechanism,’ said Dunn. ‘The secret of using shape memory polymer fibres to generate desired shape changes of the composite material is how the architecture of the fibres is designed, including their location, orientation and other factors.’

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October 24, 2013



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