Dienstag, 14.08.2018 15:16 Uhr

3D Printing goes 4D

Verantwortlicher Autor: ZéLuis F. Correia Zürich, 14.05.2017, 17:40 Uhr
Presse-Ressort von: ZéLuis F. Correia Bericht 4722x gelesen
4D Printing: Researchers print flat 3D objects that are brought into more shapes.
4D Printing: Researchers print flat 3D objects that are brought into more shapes.  Bild: ETH Zürich/Tian Chen

Zürich [ENA] Researchers researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology ETH Zurich, led by professor Kristina Shea, head of the laboratory for product development and computer-based methods, have found a way to control the shape and behavior of 3D printed objects that is being called 4D printing.

By now most people are probably familiar with 3D printing, in which a computer is used to control the deposition of a material in successive layers to create a three-dimensional object. But if the element of time is added, and a 3D object is created that can take different shapes at different moments, we enter a new dimension in the realm of fabrication technology: 4D printing.

Now, researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology ETH Zurich have improved on 4D printed objects by finding a way to control their structure and weight-bearing capabilities. It’s a breakthrough that could have important applications in many fields, including aerospace engineering, where objects must often be compressed into a flat shape to save space in transport; or even medicine, for example, in the production of stents.

"The flat structures we produce do not change their configuration randomly, but rather exactly in the way we design them," explained Tian Chen, a doctoral student in the Engineering Design and Computing Lab, in an ETHZ press release on Monday. To achieve this, the researchers developed a type of flat, 3D-printed object featuring special components made up of two different materials: a rigid polymer, plus a softer elastic material. These components can exist in either a retracted or extended state, allowing the object to switch between different stable or load-bearing shapes.

Knowing that the object’s components can only exist in one of these two states – retracted or extended – allows the researchers to predict the overall form of the object at any given time, and to use computer simulations to predict the forces required to achieve different shapes. "4D printing has several advantages," said lab head Kristina Shea. "Printing a flat initial form with rigid and elastic sections in a single step is highly efficient. It would be much more complex and time-consuming to produce the three-dimensional object or assemble it from separate components."

With the aid of a specially developed simulation software, the researchers are able to accurately predict forms and force which have to be used for certain shape changes. The researchers print the four-dimensional objects with a professional multi-material 3D printer that can print objects from up to 40 different materials. The objects created by the ETH scientists comprise two of them: a rigid polymer that makes up most of the structure and an elastic polymer for the moving parts. The researchers print all parts in a single step. 4D-printed objects can be created, for example, at the beginning in flat, easily transportable structures which unfold at the destination.

Similar approaches have been used in aerospace for quite some time now; for example, to transport structures into space in a compressed space-saving state. Aerospace is thus one possible application for 4D printing. But the scientists are also considering the simple construction of ventilation systems, systems for opening and closing valves or medical applications, such as stents. Currently, the scientists are reconfiguring these structures by hand, but they are working on a drive for their elements that will extend the structures in reaction to temperature or humidity.. (SOURCE: ETH Zürich)

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