Scientists create self-folding objects using a cheap 3-D printer

Scientists have made a new type of high-tech 3-D printer that has the capability to produce self-folding materials. A group of researchers at the Carnegie Mellon University have prepared this cheap 3-D printer that can efficiently produce self-folding materials. The printer generates flat plastic items and when heat is applied, these plastic items fold themselves into predetermined shapes like rose boat etc.

According to the scientists, these self-folding plastic objects represent a first step towards making products like flat-pack furniture that achieve their final shape with the help of a heat gun. Also, the emergency shelters can be shipped flat and folded according to the required under the warmth of the sun. Scientists say that the self-folding materials are cheaper and faster to produce than the solid 3-D objects and they cab used for multiple purposes. These can be used to produce prototypes of solid structures. The self-folding materials can also be used to make molds for boat hulls as well as other fiberglass products at a very cheap cost.

Lining Yao, assistant professor in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute and director of the Morphing Matter Lab said, “We wanted to see how self-assembly could be made more democratic –accessible to many users.” Previously also many scientists have prepared self-folding materials, but the technique that they used was highly sophisticated and the materials were expensive also. But, Yao and her team prepared self-folding materials with the help of an inexpensive 3-D printer called as an FDM printer and took advantage of its warpage. Yao said that people hate warpage but their team took this disadvantage and turned it to their advantage.

To produce self-folding objects, the researchers first controlled this warpage of FDM printer by varying the speed at which the thermoplastic material is deposited. They combined the warp-prone materials with the rubber-like materials to resist the contracture. The materials came out of the 3-D printer as flat and hard plastic. Then the scientists placed the plastic in hot water so as to make them soft and rubbery. Then they created a unique code that automatically calculated the print speed and patterns needed to achieve particular folding angles and finally the self-folding materials were made. Byoungkwon An, a research affiliate in HCII said, “The software is based on new curve-folding theory representing banding motions of curved area.