Cheap 3-D printer can produce self-folding materials

A computer-controlled process developed at Carnegie Mellon University enables flat pieces of plastic produced in an inexpensive 3-D printer to assume predetermined 3-D shapes when heated. Credit: Carnegie Mellon University

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have used an inexpensive 3-D printer to produce flat plastic items that, when heated, fold themselves into predetermined shapes, such as a rose, a boat or even a bunny.

Self-folding materials are quicker and cheaper to produce than solid 3-D objects, making it possible to replace noncritical parts or produce prototypes using structures that approximate the solid objects. Molds for boat hulls and other fiberglass products might be inexpensively produced using these materials.

Yao will present her group’s research on this method, which she calls Thermorph, at CHI 2018, the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, April 21-26 in Montreal, Canada.

Other researchers have explored self-folding materials, but typically have used exotic materials or depended on sophisticated processing techniques not widely available. Yao and her research team were able to create self-folding structure by using the least expensive type of 3-D printer—an FDM printer—and by taking advantage of warpage, a common problem with these printers.

Read more: Cheap 3-D printer can produce self-folding materials

Image Credit: Carnegie Mellon University