4D Printing enables Shape Shifting Structures

4D Printing enables Shape Shifting Structures

University of Wollongong/Paul Jones

Scientists take 3D printing to the next level with 4D printing.

Scientists at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) at the University of Wollongong developed 4D Printing, taking 3D printing to the next level. The 4th dimension is time, which means the 4D printed structures are shape shifting.

The researchers developed 3D printed materials that morph into new structures, post production, under the influence of external stimuli such as water or heat. As in 3D printing, a structure is built up layer by layer into the desired shape, but these new materials are able to transform themselves from one shape into another.

4D printing could have a major impact on medicine, construction, automation and robotics. The ACES researchers are focusing on the medical field of soft robotics, manufacturing a valve that actuates in response to its surrounding water’s temperature.

ACES Professor Marc in het Panhuis said it was the cleverness of the valve’s creation that was remarkable. “The cool thing about it is, is it’s a working functioning device that you just pick up from the printer,” he said. “There’s no other assembly required.”

The materials scientist said the valve, a 3D printed structure, possessed actuators that are activated solely by water. “So it’s an autonomous valve, there’s no input necessary other than water; it closes itself when it detects hot water,” he said.

The ACES Chief Investigator said the ACES group was the first to combine printing a 4D device with four different cartridges simultaneously, while using tough gels with the incorporated actuating materials.

The research results have been published in Macromolecular Rapid Communications under the title “4D Printing with Mechanically Robust, Thermally Actuating Hydrogels.” The authors of the report are Shannon Bakarich (PhD candidate), Doctor Robert Gorkin III, Professor Marc in het Panhuis and Professor Geoff Spinks.


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