Scientists at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia have developed an efficient method for 3D printing smart structures from shape memory polymers.
Shape memory polymers are materials that react to environmental influences such as heat, light or electricity by deforming and later returning to their original shape. The research team used digital light processing (DLP) here. In this process, 3D models are hardened layer by layer from liquid synthetic resin. By integrating liquid crystal into the resin system, the mechanical properties and shape memory functions could be introduced directly during the printing process.
In experiments, the scientists demonstrated the heat sensitivity of the printed materials and how shape changes can be influenced by designing the internal structures. Using patch-like sensor models, they demonstrated potential applications for detecting movement in joints or limbs, for example.
According to the researchers, the work represents a milestone in additive manufacturing. It enables novel 4D printing applications in which time is added as a fourth dimension. In combination with smart materials, dynamic, self-adaptive components could be created for medical products, toys or tools, for example.
The 3D printing of smart shape memory polymers thus points the way to a new era of responsive manufacturing processes and could trigger a wide range of innovations in various industries.