If you’ve done much 3D printing, you probably curse how plastic warps as it cools down and heats. There’s nothing more upsetting than watching a six hour print start curling off the bed and starting its inexorable march to the trash can. However, researchers at Carnegie Mellon have found a way to harness that tendency to warp with heat to make self-folding structures like those seen in the video below. There’s a paper about how it works available, too.
The Thermorph process uses commercially-available 3D printers, but requires special software. You might wonder why you would want to fold, say, a rose, when you could just print it as a fully-formed 3D model. The paper suggests that printing self-folding structures is faster and can save up to 87% on print times for the right models.
The paper is a combination of material science, topography, and design. They use a browser-based modeling tool to determine the shapes to print, but it wasn’t clear if that software is available to others. Judging from the paper, they import a standard 3D model, simplify its mesh, unfold the mesh, and then make particular fold lines. The results are pretty impressive.
Printing is really becoming mainstream these days with the Marines printing parts and guest appearances on Lost in Space. Being relatively new — at least in common use — there are bound to be many new techniques in the days ahead. It remains to be seen which will stand the test of time and which will be essentially dead ends.