3D printing can have aspects to it which are fun. It has also become an invaluable tool in medicine being able to create exact replicas of organs.
Across many sectors, from architecture to model making, what can be achieved with 3D printing is still in the early stages.
Engineers at the University of Maryland (UMD) have created a new shape-changing or “morphing” 3D printing nozzle which can print “fiber-filled composites” – materials made up of short fibers that boost special properties over traditional 3D-printed parts, such as enhancing part strength or electrical conductivity.
Ryan Sochol, an assistant professor in mechanical engineering and director of the Bioinspired Advanced Manufacturing (BAM) Laboratory at UMD’s A. James Clark School of Engineering, explained:
“When 3D printing with the morphing nozzle, the power lies on their side actuators, which can be inflated like a balloon to change the shape of the nozzle, and in turn, the orientations of the fibers.”
The engineers built upon work done in the development of 4D printing – 3D printed objects which can reshape and transform according to their environment.
Recent advances in 4D printing rely on materials capable of both “anisotropic” expansion, swelling more in one direction than another, as well as “isotropic” expansion, swelling identically in all directions. Unfortunately, switching between these conditions has typically required researchers to print with multiple, different materials.
Researcher David Bigio, said:
“In our work, we looked at how printed parts swelled when submerged in water, and specifically, if we could alter that swelling behavior using our morphing nozzle.”
“What was exciting,” added Connor Armstrong, ” was discovering that we could cause a single printed material to transition between anisotropic and isotropic swelling just by changing the nozzle’s shape during the 3D printing process.”
Interestingly, to build the morphing nozzle itself, the team actually turned to a different 3D printing technology called “PolyJet Printing.” This multi-material inkjet-based approach offered by UMD’s Terrapin Works 3D Printing Hub allowed the researchers to 3D print their nozzle with flexible materials for the inflatable side actuators and the shape-changing central channel, but then rigid materials for the outer casing and the access ports.
“Importantly, the nozzle’s ability to morph and to even up the score in terms of swelling properties is not limited to 4D printing,” said researcher Noah Todd.
“Our approach could be applied for 3D printing many other composite materials to customize their elastic, thermal, magnetic or electrical properties for example.”
“The use of multi-material PolyJet 3D printing enabled us to design the nozzle with an operating power range or set of pressure magnitudes that can be reproduced in essentially any research laboratory,” added mechanical engineering Abdullah Alsharhan.
In one application of this new approach, the team is exploring the use of their strategy to realize biomedical applications in which bulk printed objects could reshape in the presence of particular stimuli from the body.
The team is also in discussions with several DoD laboratories to use the morphing nozzle to support the production of weapons for defense and other military systems.
Ryan Sochol added:
“By providing researchers with an accessible way to 3D print fiber-filled composite materials with on-demand control of their fiber orientations, and thus, their ultimate performance,this work opens the door for new applications of 3D printing that harness these unique material properties and the distinctive capabilities they enable.”
The research was published in Advanced Materials Technologies.