Nov.12, 2011

Researchers at North Carolina State University have developed a simple way to convert 2D patterns into 3D objects shining light.

According to Dr. Michael Dickey, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at NC State and co-author of a paper describing the research, this novel applications of existing materials has potential for rapid, high-volume manufacturing processes or packaging applications.

Researchers take a pre-stressed plastic sheet and carry it through an inkjet printer to add bold black lines on the material. Then the material is cut into the pattern you wanted and placed under an infrared light, such as a heat lamp.

The black lines which is printed along the folding lines, absorb more energy than the rest part of material causing the plastic to contract - creating a hinge that folds the sheets into 3D shapes, like cubes or pyramids, and you don't even have to touch the material. This is actually a very simple process. The technique is compatible with commercial printing techniques, such as screen printing, roll-to-roll printing, and inkjet printing, that are inexpensive and high-throughput but inherently 2D.

By changing the width of the black lines or hinges, researchers can also alter how far each hinge folds, that is 90 degrees for a cube, and 120 degrees for a pyramid for instance. The wider the hinge, the further it folds.

“You can also pattern the lines on either side of the material, which causes the hinges to fold in different directions. This allows you to create more complex structures.”says Dickey.

The researchers found there were two key points. First, material begins to soften only when the surface temperature of the hinge exceed the glass transition temperature of the material. Secondly the heat needs to be localised to the hinge so that the hinge can be effectively folded.

Check out the video here:

The paper, “Self-folding of polymer sheets using local light absorption,” was published Nov. 10 in the journal Soft Matter.


Posted in 3D Print Technology

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