May 2, 2017 | By Tess

A joint team of scientists from Peking University in China and the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a novel way to 3D print complex self-folding origami-like structures using a conventional light projector and PowerPoint slides. The remarkably simple method, called the “frontal photo polymerization method,” could have applications in the making of microelectronics, soft actuators, mechanical metamaterials, and biomedical devices.

The research project, which was recently published in the journal Science Advances under the title “Origami by frontal photopolymerization,” shows how the team of scientists were able to use a conventional light projector to create 3D origami structures using photocurable liquid polymers.

As researcher Daining Fang explains, the research project essentially flipped the perspective that “shrinkage” for certain types of polymers is a negative thing, and found a way to control shrinkage to make self-folding origami structures.

Fabrication of origami structures using one-side illumination

“The concept of our method is based on the volume shrinkage during photopolymerization,” reads the research paper abstract. “By adding photoabsorbers into the polymer resin, an attenuated light field is created and leads to a nonuniform curing along the thickness direction. The layer directly exposed to light cures faster than the next layer; this nonuniform curing degree leads to nonuniform curing–induced volume shrinkage.”

Traditionally, manufacturing self-folding origami structures required complex material systems and extensive fabrication processes. With the new research development, however, it is now possible to 3D print folding structures using an LED projector, a PowerPoint presentation, and liquid polymers.

Using a commercial LED projector, the researchers were able to project a simple grayscale pattern onto a layer of liquid polymer resin. Because the layer of resin exposed directly to the light cures and hardens faster than the layer immediately below it, the scientists were able to take advantage of the “nonuniform curing degree” to induce shrinkage in the shape once it has been printed.

The nonuniform curing-induced volume shrinkage “further introduces a nonuniform stress field, which drives the film to bend toward the newly formed side. The degree of bending can be controlled by adjusting the grayscale and the irradiation time, an easy approach for creating origami structures.”

Polyhedrons created using one-side illumination

So far, the research team has made a number of complex printed origami structures using its light projection method, including flowers, cranes, and Miura-ori folds (a method wherein a flat sheet is folded into a smaller area). Because the method is currently limited to using thin polymer films, the research team has mainly been working with small prints of just a few centimeters each.

What is perhaps most impressive about the technology is how accessible it is. As it only requires a commercial projector, a vat of photocurable liquid resin with shrinkage properties, and grayscale patterns that can be made using PowerPoint, virtually anyone can try it. As mentioned, the method could be used to make 3D origami-like structures which themselves could have applications in mechanical metamaterials, microelectronics, biomedical devices, and more.



Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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