Georgia Tech engineers have merged origami with 3D printing to create complex, sturdy and lightweight structures.
The one-step approach can be used to fabricate biomedical devices and equipment for space exploration.
Until now, making such structures has involved multiple steps, more than one material, and assembly from smaller parts.
“What we have here is the proof of concept of an integrated system for manufacturing complex origami. It has tremendous potential applications,” said team lead, professor Glaucio H. Paulino.
The researchers used a relatively new kind of 3D printing called Digital Light Processing (DLP) to create groundbreaking origami structures that are not only hold significant weight but can also be folded and refolded repeatedly in an action similar to the slow push and pull of an accordion.
When Paulino first reported these structures, or ‘zippered tubes,’ in 2015, they were made of paper and required gluing.
In the current work, the zippered tubes – and complex structures made out of them – are composed of one plastic polymer and do not require assembly.
According to H. Jerry Qi, a Woodruff Faculty Fellow, DLP has been in the lab for a while, but commercialization began only five years ago.
Unlike other 3D printing techniques, DLP creates structures by printing successive layers of a liquid resin that is then cured, or hardened, by ultraviolet light.
For the current work, the researchers first developed a new resin that, when cured, is very strong. The resin in turn is key to an equally important element of the work: tiny hinges.
These hinges, which occur along the creases where the origami structure folds, allow folding because they are made of a thinner layer of resin than the larger panels of which they are part.
The team used DLP to create several origami structures ranging from the individual origami cells that the zippered tubes are composed of to a complex bridge composed of many zippered tubes.
All were subjected to tests that showed they were not only capable of carrying about 100 times the weight of the origami structure, but could also be repeatedly folded and unfolded without breaking.
Image and content: Christopher Moore/Elizabeth Thomson-Georgia Tech