Engineering Minute

Engineering Minute – 3D Printed Material Morphs Under Varying Temperatures

Engineers at MIT have developed a 3D printed mesh material that morphs from flat to a predetermined shaped when exposed to changes in ambient temperature. To demonstrate this technique the team printed the flat mesh that deformed into the shape of a human face when the surrounding temperature changed. The team's research was recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences


morphing 3D printed material
For the domes: A set of lattice structures that has transformed into spherical caps, or dome-like shapes, after application of a temperature difference. The individual samples range from 3x3 cells to 20x20 cells, with further variations cell sizes and rib dimensions. Credit: MIT

“My goal was to start with a complex 3-D shape that we want to achieve, like a human face, and then ask, ‘How do we program a material so it gets there?’” says Wilm van Rees, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at MIT. “That’s a problem of inverse design.”


From the MIT article: "If you’ve ever tried to gift wrap a soccer ball, you’ve experienced this concept in practice: To transform paper, which has no curvature at all, to the shape of a ball, which has positive double curvature, you have to crease and crumple the paper at the sides and bottom to completely wrap the ball. In other words, for the paper sheet to adapt to a shape with double curvature, it would have to stretch or contract, or both, in the necessary places to wrap a ball uniformly.

To impart double curvature to a shape-shifting sheet, the researchers switched the basis of the structure from a continuous sheet to a lattice, or mesh. The idea was twofold: first, a temperature-induced bending of the lattice’s ribs would result in much larger expansions and contractions of the mesh nodes, than could be achieved in a continuous sheet. Second, the voids in the lattice can easily accommodate large changes in surface area when the ribs are designed to grow at different rates across the sheet."


Read more about the 3D printed material that morphs under varying temperatures at MIT

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