In just a matter of moments, the printed origami is capable of forming 3D objects.

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The Fascinating Combination of Tradition and Progress: 4D Printed Origami

3D printing has undoubtedly revolutionized the manufacturing industry with its convenience and automation. However, it often requires a significant amount of time, especially for large and complex builds. Researchers at the University of Tokyo in Japan have recently made an intriguing breakthrough by combining the ancient art of origami with the cutting-edge technology of 3D printing, resulting in what they call “4D printing.”

Origami and 3D printing have crossed paths before, but this unique development showcases the untapped creativity and utility potential of origami constructions. Unlike traditional 3D printing, the 4D printing process allows the final creation to self-fold into its desired shape almost instantaneously. Imagine pouring hot water over a flat sheet with origami patterns and watching as it springs into a complex 3D shape within seconds.

Professor Koya Narumi, part of the University of Tokyo research team, explains, “Essentially, we’re creating flat sheets with origami patterns on them, and these patterns can be complex, taking even a skilled origami artist hours to form. But thanks to our special process, you can pour hot water over these flat sheets and watch as they spring into complex 3D shapes in a matter of seconds.”

The process begins with a digital creation, mapped out using an algorithm developed by the research team. It is then produced as a flat, 2D printed sheet that can be bent into the desired shape, similar to paper being folded into origami. The designs are printed on a heat-sensitive plastic sheet using a process similar to binder jetting in 3D printing. The heat-sensitive plastic reacts to UV light, resulting in multiple material layers, including a primer, base ink layer, and a clear, waterproof protective top layer.

What sets this 4D printing technique apart is the unique design of the print, which creates gaps in the page where folding will occur. During the printing process, the open spaces expose the heat-sensitive plastic underneath the heat-resistant ink layer. When the printed sheet comes into contact with hot water, it immediately folds along preplanned lines. This allows complex designs, such as animals, globes, or even wearable caps, to take shape instantly.

While the research is still ongoing, the team envisions numerous applications for this technology, not only in reducing waste but also in various industries. The fashion industry, medical field, and disaster relief efforts are just a few areas where 4D printed origami could have a significant impact.

The possibilities seem endless with the potential to expand the range of materials and increase the number of applications. By combining tradition and progress, the researchers at the University of Tokyo have opened up new avenues for creativity and efficiency in the manufacturing world.

What are your thoughts on “4D” origami? Let us know in the comments below or share your opinion on our LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter pages! Don’t forget to sign up for our free weekly Newsletter here, so you can stay up to date with the latest 3D printing news delivered straight to your inbox. You can also find all our videos on our YouTube channel.

*Cover Photo Credits: The Yomiuri Shimbun

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