Nov 2, 2017 | By David

We’ve reported previously on the ingenious combination of 3D printing technology with origami techniques, for robotics and various other useful applications. One particularly impressive example of this combination pioneered last year by researchers at TU Delft showed potential for creating improved ‘smart’ bone implants. The same team has recently updated its approach to address some of the challenges still faced from the initial project. Now they are one step closer to bringing their work to the medical market for everyday use, and they have managed to achieve this with much cheaper equipment and materials than before.

These 3D printed structures are inspired by the traditional Japanese art of paper folding, but their real innovation is that they require no human intervention to form particular shapes. They have a shape-shifting capability ‘programmed’ into them when they are first made, and they are able to self-roll, self-wrinkle, self-twist and self-fold from two-dimensional flat objects to 3D shapes according to how they are printed. The most recent versions of the structures can perform these shits sequentially, with particular time delays in between transformations enabling more complex shapes to be formed.

This sequential programming is achieved by simultaneously stretching the material in certain spots as it is being printed. "The stretching is stored inside the material as a memory," says TU Delft Ph.D. researcher Teunis van Manen. "When heated up, the memory is released and the material returns to its original state." The differences in thickness and alignment of filaments in the two-dimensional shapes leads to time delays in their transformations, which means that each part will fold and twist exactly when required.

Another change with the new project was that the researchers used a basic hobbyist 3D printer, as well as some of the cheapest and most accessible materials. They made use of an Ultimaker FDM machine, and PLA was their filament of choice. "At about €17 per kilo, it's dirt cheap," says Amir Zadpoor, leader of the project. "Nevertheless, we created some of the most complex shape-shifting ever reported with it."

One of the most important applications envisaged for this innovative 3D printed automated origami is the development of better surgical bone implants. The process could be used to build implants that have a porous interior, which would allow a patient’s own stem cells to attach themselves to the inside of a bone implant instead of just the surface. This would create stronger, more durable implants.

Not only this, but the origami structures’ transformation from two-dimensional to three-dimensional shape could also enable the implementation of ‘smart’ technology into the implant. A flat surface can be crafted with specific nano-patterns that can guide cell growth, creating what researchers refer to as instructive surfaces. These instructive surfaces apply forces to stem cells that prompt them to develop into specific cells. A two-dimensional surface that transforms into a pillar shape, for example, could be used to stimulate the growth of bone tissue.

Other applications could be possible in the fields of electronics and consumer goods. The origami technique would allow for printed 2D electronics to be incorporated more effectively into three-dimensional electronic products, or for the final shape of a piece of flat-pack furniture to be programmed into a 2D sheet for automated assembly. "Shape-shifting could definitely turn many of our existing 2-D worlds into 3-D worlds," says Zadpoor. "We are already being contacted by people who are interested in working with it."

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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