3D Materials and Construction Possibilities (Project Learning With 3D Printing)

Most students will work with a plastic when making things with a 3D printer, but that is only scratching the surface of materials that can be used in these machines. This book takes a look at the different materials that can be used by 3D printers, what those materials can make, and the advantages and disadvantages for each.

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3D printed cell-opening mechanism opens new possibilities in camouflage, drug delivery

Oct 20, 2017 | By Benedict

Researchers at the University of New Hampshire have used 3D printing to design a unique sequential cell-opening mechanism that could be used for drug delivery and color-changing camouflage materials.

When you think of animals changing color, your mind will likely wander to one creature in particular: the chameleon. In fact, so well-known is this lizard’s ability to change its appearance, we’ve even started using the term “chameleon” in a figurative sense to describe people who change their attributes or beliefs depending on where they are.

But chameleons certainly aren’t the only color-changing creatures in the animal kingdom. Look under the sea, and you’ll find a whole range of incredible cephalopods—squid, cuttlefish, and octopi, for example—who can also change their appearance to disguise themselves.

It’s these aqua-dwelling camouflage creatures that have inspired researchers at the University of New Hampshire to develop a nature-inspired cell-opening mechanism that could be used to make synthetic color-changing smart materials.

The researcher’s exciting new concept involves modifying the chiral geometry of two different cells that are designed to mimic the color-changing organs in cephalopods. When loaded in one direction only, the two different cells open sequentially, producing a color-changing effect.

“We used two different types of cells: one would open right away, and the other would rotate first before opening in the sequence,” explains Yaning Li, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at UNH, and one of the authors of the study.

“What makes this unique is that if each cell is assigned a different color, you could alter the sequential opening mechanism to create a material that might be dark green when the first cell opened and then change to bright yellow when the second one opened after it.”

And this unique mechanism—prototyped with the help of 3D printing—isn’t only useful for changing the color of things. The researchers say “smart materials” made with the cell-opening mechanism could be made responsive to external conditions like light, temperature, and humidity, and could also be made into sensors, opening up a whole range of functional applications.

The mechanism, Li says, could even be used for drug delivery and “particle release, such as two different medicines being released sequentially through a bandage to help address medical issues like wound swelling.”

The University of New Hampshire researchers used a multi-material 3D printer to develop their “hybrid auxetic chiral mechanical metamaterials,” and the flexible additive manufacturing process has allowed them to experiment with their creation.

For example, one application of the process involved developing an innovative soft meta-material whose chiral geometry is customized at two different levels.

“The order of the cell opening can also be altered via geometry and material combination[s] to alter the behavior of the cells and increase the number of potential applications,” said Yunyao Jiang, a doctoral candidate in mechanical engineering at the university, and lead author of the study.

It seems an odd combination, but octopi and 3D printing might just have produced the next big medical innovation.

The study, “Novel 3D-Printed Hybrid Auxetic Mechanical Metamaterial with Chirality-Induced Sequential Cell Opening Mechanisms,” was supported by an NSF/CAREER award. It has been published in Advanced Engineering Materials.

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Adventures in 3D Printing: Limitless Possibilities and Profit Using 3D Printers

Following the success of “3D Printing – The Next Technology Goldrush”, this new book, “Adventures in 3D Printing” is packed full from cover to cover with completely new content on a subject that is developing at a very rapid rate indeed.

Section one focuses specifically on the practicalities of turning a 3D printer into a money-making machine and is filled with tips and tricks that have been learned the hard way. Section two discusses a wide selection of related developments that will be interesting to anybody with a fascination for 3D printing and its related industries. The goal of the book is to inspire readers so that they are “overflowing with new product ideas, and ready to go and start printing ingenious objects straight away. “The result is an easy to read investigation of imagination, invention, and investment, all key areas in an industry that is clearly destined for great advances in the very near future.

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3D printing possibilities are beautiful but not limitless

Nothing to wear this evening? Sorry, but 3D printing can’t help. Rain Rabbit, CC BY-NC

3D printing has to be a contender for the most talked about technology award at the moment. Gone are the days when I’d start talking about my research in this area only to be met with glazed eyes or polite disinterest. Now I only have to say the words “3D printing”, be it at work or on the tram home, and I’m immediately rewarded with genuine interest.

Sometimes it’s a life-changing medical application, or a quirky story to tug at your heart-strings. Sometimes it’s the downright controversial – such as when someone takes it upon themself to print a homemade gun. Every time something new happens in the field we all hear about it. A lot.

There’s no doubting that these technologies are exciting but the hype is leading us to think our future homes will all feature machines suspiciously similar to the Replicator in Star Trek, probably alongside a robotic housemaid and hoverboard.

The use of 3D printers in industry will definitely continue to grow, and will have a major (if often unnoticed) impact on our consumer choice but those of us who don’t make things for a living will not suddenly become digital artisans.

We’re now able to go online and choose from a staggering range of affordable, easy to use 3D printers or even walk into a high-street store and pick one up to take home there and then. Does this mean we will all rush out to buy one? No. These personal systems will certainly continue to improve, but they will never develop to the point where they can make everything we ever need and at an affordable price.

As things stand, the quality and choice of the materials that feed into 3D printers just isn’t there, and you still need skill to model your parts in the first place. Even if it is economical to pay to download the file for a particular product and produce it at home, there’s the question of whether or not it’s still simpler to just order the part online or pick it up from a nearby store.

Realistically you are probably not going to use your home 3D printer to replace that broken part on your toaster or make yourself a new pair of shoes. It’s more likely that you and your family will use it to produce a selection of novelty items you’ve either designed or downloaded from a website such as Thingiverse. You’ll probably be making Christmas tree ornaments or a pair of earrings vaguely resembling your pet before the excitement wears off and your 3D printer is consigned to the spare room with all those other gadgets you’ve bought over the years.

Put simply, most of us aren’t all that creative when it comes down to it. We don’t often make things at home and being able to own a 3D printer is highly unlikely to suddenly transform us into a nation of designers.

That’s not to say that 3D printers are not an exciting prospect, though. Part of the fuss stems from the ability of these technologies to produce parts without any form of tooling. This removes many of the design restrictions often encountered with more conventional manufacturing techniques and allows the production of extremely complicated geometries at little or no extra cost. How else could you make a wind-powered walking animal in one go?

Tied in with this is the ability to economically produce single, one-off items. What this means for us as consumers is more exciting designs and the option for personalised items at affordable prices. We may not all be wearing Dita von Teese-style 3D printed dresses any time soon, but we will certainly start to make more use of the freedom this technology gives us.

The good thing is, 3D printing covers all levels of design skill. If you’re simply excited by cool accessories, you can go online and buy a new lampshade or an iPhone cover that’s a little bit different from what you’re used to.

If something unique is more to your taste, you’ll find various levels of personalisation – for example customised jewellery with low or high design input. Or you can create personalised versions of yourself, such as superimposing your face on a Disney princess or Star Trek figure.

If you’re a whizz at design, you can order your own designs to be produced via an online provider such as Shapeways or Sculpteo. You’ll also be able to do it through in-store services more and more. Many such services allow you to sell your designs to other customers into the bargain.

3D printers will never be a necessity – even 2D printers are becoming less common in the home – but they do open up many unique and useful applications. They’re not for everyone, and they may struggle to fully meet the hype generated on their behalf, but they will continue to have a profound effect on our choice as consumers.