Nov 21, 2017 | By Alec

Researchers at the renowned Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich) are breaking new ground in the rapidly expanding field of 4D printing. As outlined in a new study by Mechanical and Process Engineering professors Marius Wagner, Tian Chen, and Kristina Shea, shape memory polymers have been found to be an important catalyst in creating 4D prints with enhanced adaptability and control. According to the authors’ publication in the scientific journal 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing, using these specialized polymers can enable prints with pre-determined area changes up to 200%. In other words, these cutting-edge prints can expand up to two-times their original size, opening up endless possibilities for the manufacturing of the future.

It’s been a long time coming for the world’s proponents of 4D printing, an evolution of 3D printing in which the fourth dimension is time. As one of the most buzz-worthy innovations emerging in labs around the world, this (literally) expanding technology allows scientists to 3D print objects that reshape themselves or self-assemble over time into pre-determined structures. Although it’s a technology that’s still very much in its research and development stage, the future looks bright for 4D printing, which was recently named a megatrend to watch over the next 5 years by the Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies 2017 report.

Now, ETH Zurich researchers are rapidly working to make that future a reality. As explained in their paper “Large Shape Transforming 4D Auxetic Structures,” the Swiss engineering team shows that beyond adapting and reverting, 4D printed structures can exhibit changes in area up to two hundred percent. The key to guiding these complex geometries, it turns out, is in heat activation. By 3D printing in auxetic meta-materials, ie. shape memory polymers with thermoviscoelastic material properties, time can be engaged as the fourth dimension—when and how we tell it to.

“4D printing has large untapped potential in applications where configuration change cannot be manually achieved and where electromechanical actuation is not feasible, for example, in aerospace and in medical fields,” explain the ETH Zurich researchers. “In addition, 4D designs have the advantage of volume and support reduction.”

Experimentation has always been at the fore of developing 4D printing, but this time, the ETH Zurich team paid close attention to their predecessors’ past challenges. After examining an extensive array of projects by other researchers, the team opted to implement material that could be tiled to form active structures. They were then able to focus more intently on the programming side of their design, with a new emphasis on simplified procedures.

While “auxetic meta-materials” may sound like a mouthful, the team asserts that the proposed meta-materials are actually one single material, synthesized from commercially available products via inexpensive inkjet printing processes. In this case, the ETH Zurich scientists used a Stratasys Objet500 Connex3 3D printer for creating the meta-material, which was chiefly fabricated with VeroWhitePlus RGD835 from Stratasys’ PolyJet series. This innovative use of pre-existing materials and equipment also broadens the potential for fabricating 4D designs in a wide variety of applications, the team notes.

Read the full article for yourself here.



Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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