3D printing is a technology which has a lot of potentials to cover several industries and applications. However, in the last decade, the research done on this subject showed that this tech can be used in so many different ways that we have ever imagined. A team from Georgia Institute of Technology aimed to perform 4D printing. Or to create a machine which can combine multiple materials into one 3D printer. Team leader, Professor H. Jerry Qi, explained, “Each printer technology has its own limitations. We put four 3D-printing technologies on one platform.”
The project was displayed at the American Chemical Society (ACS). The aim of the team is to expand the technology into the area of “soft actuators, deployable smart medical devices, and flexible electronics,” The team achieved the results by developing a special link which contains both a linear semi-crystalline polymer and urethane diacrylate. This allows the printer to print on the highly elastic and porous semi-interpenetrating polymer network (semi-IPN).
The polymer-rich elastomer, which can bear stretching up to 600% of its original size has a lot of flexibility and versatility. The materials can also achieve both self-healing (SH) and shape memory (SM) results. It is a necessary step to develop a fully functional 4D printer. They also produced a flexible conductive ribbon and wheel as well. It is developed with the support of the US Air Force. The printer is in its prototype stage for now. Research in the field of SH and SM polymers have been growing fast in the past 5 years. The scientific community feels that it has overcome a major milestone and has come close to making 4D printing a reality.
Qi estimated the cost of building the printer around US$350,000. The printer was received at the meeting and created a lot of buzz among the people. The University of Wollongong Materials Engineering Professor Geoff Spinks said, “We just had a conversation where we were dreaming of that kind of machine. I’d imagine in the near future we might have 16 different types of printheads, or even more.” As the research and development are increasing into material combinations and technology, the capabilities for 3D printing have grown even more.