4D printed thermoplastic objects morph when heated

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University’s Morphing Matters Lab created a series of 4D printed objects made from thermoplastic, printed with a common 3D printer, that fold themselves into predetermined shapes when heated.

4D printing is a term used for 3D printed objects with one extra dimension: time. 4D printed projects morph over time into a different shape.

Using an inexpensive FDM printer, the researchers produced flat plastic objects that, when heated fold themselves into predetermined shapes. Their examples include a rose, a tiny boat and even a bunny.

The researchers replaced the 3D printer’s open source software with their own code, which automatically calculates the print speed and patterns necessary to achieve particular folding angles.

The team combined warp-prone materials with rubber-like materials that resist contracture, and varied the speed with which the printer prints. This way, it is possible to precisely control the folding pattern when the thermoplastic is heated.

According to the researchers, the technology could be used to create self-folding flat-pack furniture, boats or even emergency shelters. These structures could be shipped flat to save space, and fold into shape in the warmth of the sun.

This research the latest in the field of morphing 3D printed objects. For more self-folding objects, click here.

Photos & GIFs: Morphing Matters Lab