The 4D printing era has officially arrived.

Four-dimensional printing is characterized by a 3D printed object's ability to change shape.

Mechanical engineering researchers at City University of Hong Kong believe they have developed a world-first. They are debuting a ‘ceramic ink' for 3D printers. This means a mixture of elastic polymers and ceramic nanoparticles can be passed through a printer. The object that is produced is then able to be molded into any shape.  The researchers published their findings in the Science Advances journal.

Source: City University of Hong Kong

Previously, printing with ceramic-based resins produced rigid structures that couldn't change shape. However, this new ceramic ink allows for the production of malleable shapes, similar to origami structures. This signals further evidence of the origami movement that's occurring within the mechanical engineering sector. The title of the research the engineers published was: “Origami and 4D printing of elastomer-derived ceramic structures.”

The ceramic precursors can be ‘stretched three times beyond their initial length' when heated up during the printing process, according to the researchers. Professor Lu Jian, the Chair Professor at CityU's Mechanical Engineering Department — who spearheaded the research — told reporters:

"With the versatile shape-morphing capability of the printed ceramic precursors, its application can be huge. One promising application is electronics. Ceramic materials have much better performance in transmitting electromagnetic signals than metallic materials. With the arrival of 5G networks, ceramic products will play a more important role in the manufacture of electronic products."

The researchers are also confident that there could be impressive aerospace applications in the future. The researchers believe this new process will begin a new chapter of cost-efficient 3D printing with flexible structures.

 

Works Cited

EurekAlert. “CityU Develops the World's First-Ever 4D Printing for Ceramics.” EurekAlert!, www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2018-08/cuoh-cdt081518.php.

“The World's First 4D Printed Ceramics Take Shape Thanks a Team of Mechanical Engineers.” Interesting Engineering, 19 Aug. 2018, interestingengineering.com/the-worlds-first-4d-printed-ceramics-take-shape-thanks-to-a-team-of-mechanical-engineers.