A team of engineers from China, Singapore, and the Georgia Institute of Technology have devised a method of creating multi-layer 3D-printed polymer parts. Each layer consists of slightly different polymers that respond differently to heat. This lets the team design and create parts that when heated, permanently alter their shape into what the team calls 4D parts.
The parts are made out of smart shape-memory polymer (SMP). The team envisions them being used to make products that could be stacked flat or rolled for shipping. Once they reach their destinations, they could be expanded and changed into the final product by immersing them in hot water.
A lattice made of shape-shifting polymers by a multi-material 3D printer permanently expands to eight times its original width after exposure to heat. (Photo by Rob Felt)
The team believes the technology can be broadened to create polymers that react to other stimuli such as moisture or light. The end products could be space structures, implantable medical devices, and a range of other structures and devices.