Washington: Scientists have developed a powerful printer that could streamline the creation of self-assembling structures that can change shape after being exposed to heat and other stimuli.
"This unique technology could accelerate the use of 4-D printing in aerospace, medicine and other industries", the researchers who presented their work at the 255th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in the last week, said.
"We are on the cusp of creating a new generation of devices that could vastly expand the practical applications for 3-D and 4-D printing," H. Jerry Qi, PhD says.
"Our prototype printer integrates many features that appear to simplify and expedite the processes used in traditional 3-D printing. As a result, 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 4-D products that could reshape our world", he said.
4-D printing is an emerging technology that allows 3-D-printed components to change their shape over time after exposure to heat, light, humidity and other environmental triggers. However, 4-D printing remains challenging, in part because it often requires complex and time-consuming post-processing steps to mechanically program each component. In addition, many commercial printers can only print 4-D structures composed of a single material.
Last year, Qi and his colleagues at Georgia Institute of Technology, in collaboration with scientists at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, used a composite made from an acrylic and an epoxy along with a commercial printer and a heat source to create 4-D objects, such as a flower that can close its petals or a star that morphs into a dome. These objects transformed shape up to 90 percent faster than previously possible because the scientists incorporated the tedious mechanical programming steps directly into the 3-D printing process.
Building on this work, the researchers sought to develop an all-in-one printer to address other 4-D printing challenges and move the technology closer to practical application. The machine they ultimately devised combines four different printing techniques, including aerosol, inkjet, direct ink write and fused deposition modeling, American Chemical Society said in a report.
Currently, Qi's team is also working with Children's Healthcare of Atlanta to determine whether this new technology could 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 says. "But these children have a lot of challenges in their daily lives, and we hope our new 4-D printer will help them overcome some of these difficulties."
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