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Lab Develops ‘4-D Printing’ for Structures

Friday, May 19, 2017

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While 3-D printing takes a more prominent role in the building of structures, a team of Swiss researchers is looking even further—to what they call “4-D printing.”

The fourth dimension here is time: Objects considered to be 4-D printed are those that can change their shape at a later point, after printing, meaning that objects that are printed out flat can potentially be reshaped to create load-bearing structures.

4D printed structure
ETH Zurich / Tian Chen

The result of the "4-D printing"  process is one complex piece that can be transported and then “deployed,” rather than a set of pieces that still need to be fully assembled.

The team, at ETH Zurich, is working under Kristina Shea, head of the institution’s Engineering Design and Computing Lab. Shea and her team create 3-D printed materials that can exist in either a retracted or extended state. By putting these components together, they’re able to create structures that are more complex.

Deployed, Not Built

According to ETH Zurich, the scientists print all of the pieces of a given structure at once, using a hard polymer for structural pieces and a more elastic polymer for moving parts. The result is one complex piece that can be transported and then “deployed,” rather than a set of pieces that still need to be fully assembled.

The advantages, the team says, include the efficiency of printing an entire structure, and easy transport, which they liken to how large aerospace structures are often manufactured in pieces and then transported before being assembled onsite.

So far, the 4-D printed structures are generally quite small: The researchers deploy them by hand. In the future, they hope to develop systems for controlling the pieces via compressed air, or even via a change in temperature or humidity.

The researchers see uses for the 4-D printing method in the aerospace industry as well as in ventilation systems and in biomedical applications.

   

Tagged categories: Aerospace; Construction; Engineers; Research; Research and development

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