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3D Printing Merge To Make Complex Structures In One Shot
Oct 31, 2018

By merging the ancient art of origami with 21st century technology, researchers have created a one-step approach to fabricating complex origami structures whose light weight, expandability, and strength could have applications in everything from biomedical devices to equipment used in space exploration. Until now, making such structures has involved multiple steps, more than one material, and assembly from smaller parts.


By merging the ancient art of origami with 21st century technology, researchers have created a one-step approach to fabricating complex origami structures whose light weight, expandability, and strength could have applications in everything from biomedical devices to equipment used in space explorationThe researchers used a relatively new kind of 3D printing called Digital Light Processing (DLP) to create groundbreaking origami structures that are not only capable of holding significant weight but can also be folded and refolded repeatedly in an action similar to the slow push and pull of an accordion. When Paulino first reported these structures, or "zippered tubes," in 2015, they were made of paper and required gluing. In the current work, the zippered tubes -- and complex structures made out of them -- are composed of one plastic (a polymer) and do not require assembly.


The work was reported in a recent issue of Soft Matter, a journal published by the Royal Society of Chemistry. The primary authors are Paulino; H. Jerry Qi, a professor in Georgia Tech's George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering; and Daining Fang of Peking University and the Beijing Institute of Technology. Other authors are Zeang Zhao, a visiting student at Georgia Tech now at Peking University; Qiang Zhang of Peking University; and Xiao Kuang and Jiangtao Wu of Georgia Tech.


An Emerging Technology


There are many different types of 3D printing technologies. The most familiar, inkjet, has been around for some 20 years. But until now, it has been difficult to create 3D-printed structures with the intricate hollow features associated with complex origami because removing the supporting materials necessary to print these structures is challenging. Further, unlike paper, the 3D-printed materials could not be folded numerous times without breaking.


Enter DLP and some creative engineering. According to Qi, a leader in the emerging field collaborating with Fang's group at Peking University, DLP has been in the lab for a while, but commercialization only began about five years ago. Unlike other 3D printing techniques, it creates structures by printing successive layers of a liquid resin that is then cured, or hardened, by ultraviolet light.