Mar 22, 2018 | By Benedict

Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a 4D printer that can create hard and soft components at the same time and incorporate conductive wiring directly into shape-changing 3D printed structures.

Speaking at the 255th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, H. Jerry Qi, Ph.D. yesterday told an audience of experts how a new 4D printer—a multi-technology 3D printer capable of printing shape-changing structures—could accelerate the use of 4D printing in aerospace, medicine, and other industries.

The unusual new 3D/4D printer can purportedly fabricate self-assembling structures that can change shape after being exposed to heat and other stimuli. The printer could be especially valuable as it is capable of printing multiple materials at once.

“We are on the cusp of creating a new generation of devices that could vastly expand the practical applications for 3D and 4D printing,” Qi said. “Our prototype printer integrates many features that appear to simplify and expedite the processes used in traditional 3D printing.”

In terms of useful applications for this printer, the Georgia Institute of Technology have set the bar high, saying items printed on the machine could transform many processes across a range of disciplines.

“We can use a variety of materials to create hard and soft components at the same time, incorporate conductive wiring directly into shape-changing structures, and ultimately set the stage for the development of a host of 4D products that could reshape our world,” Qi said.

We actually wrote about the early stages of this research last year, when Qi and colleagues began working with researchers at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) and Xi'an Jiaotong University in China.

Their initial 4D printing research, which was published in Science Advances, demonstrated how a “mechanical programming post-processing step” could be directly incorporated into the 3D printing process, allowing the creation of 3D printed objects that can be transformed into new things by heating.

Today, that research has come a long way, and the researchers are now close to perfecting a workable 4D printer that combines a total of four unique 3D printing technologies in one machine.

Those technologies are aerosol, inkjet, direct ink write, and fused deposition modeling (FDM), and with these multiple 3D printing abilities, the 4D printer can process a vast range of materials, including stiff and elastic materials such as hydrogels, silver nanoparticle-based conductive inks, liquid crystal elastomers, and shape memory polymers, or SMPs.

These SMPs, the key ingredient to shapeshifting 4D printing processes, can be programmed to “remember” a shape and then transform into it when heated.

Additionally, this multifunctional 3D printer can project a range of white, gray, or black shades of light to form and cure a component into a solid. The researchers say this grayscale lighting triggers a “crosslinking reaction” that can alter a component's behavior.

A brighter light shade can, for example, create a part that is harder, while a darker shade produces a softer part. By combining curing settings, 3D printed objects can be made that bend or stretch differently than other parts of the structure.

To make these 4D printed objects even more functional, the 3D printer can even use its direct ink write print head to deposit electrical wiring within a part.

The team is currently working with Children's Healthcare of Atlanta to see if 4D printing could be used to print prosthetic hands for children born with malformed arms.

“Only a small group of children have this condition, so there isn't a lot of commercial interest in it and most insurance does not cover the expense,” Qi said. "But these children have a lot of challenges in their daily lives, and we hope our new 4D printer will help them overcome some of these difficulties.”

We look forward to seeing how this 4D printing technology develops. See Qi's presentation in the video below.



Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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