MIT Advances Adaptable 3D Printing

 MIT Advances Adaptable 3D Printing

Photo Credit: Demin Liu & Jeremiah Johnson/MIT

What is Adaptable 3D Printing?

MIT researchers have made a breakthrough into the field of Adaptable 3D Printing. National Science Foundation funded the research. Innovative technology of 3D Printing has already revolutionised the manufacturing process by decreasing the printing turnaround time. In traditional 3D printing methods, the polymers forming the material are “dead”. It means you cannot change these dead polymers to alter its properties later.

MIT Chemists make a Breakthrough in 3D Printing

On the contrary, MIT chemists have found a way to add new polymers into the already printed objects. It will change the mechanical properties as well as the chemical composition of the already printed structures. This new technology is known as Adaptable 3D Printing.

Firmenich Career Development Associate Professor of Chemistry at MIT named Jeremiah Johnson says. “The idea is that you could print a material and subsequently take that material and, using light, morph the material into something else, or grow the material further.”

Living Polymerization

Johnson and some of his colleagues earlier tried creating adaptable 3D Printed objects by utilising a technique called Living Polymerization. The technique was quite successful to halt and restart the growth of polymers.

In the words of Johnson, “The advantage there is you can turn the light on and the chains grow, and you turn the light off and they stop. In principle, you can repeat that indefinitely and they can continue growing and growing.”

The process was quite difficult to control because of the high reactivity of the free radicals. It also damaged the material quite badly. It didn’t got much acceptance in the industry because of these shortcomings.

3D Printing Objects Can Change Color after Printing

LED light sources reactivate these newly found polymers, although the methods are different. Light for LED sources are capable enough to fuse two different structures. Each new polymer designed for adaptable 3D printing technology contains chemical groups called TTCs. Organic catalysts activate these TTCs, which in turn requires blue light LED.

When LED light falls on TTCs, it stretches out and gains new chemical properties. As a result, it changes some mechanical properties as well. Although, this organic catalyst works only in an oxygen free environment, the only limitation found so far. Now, researchers are trying to find new catalysts which can also work in an oxygen rich environment.

Adaptable 3D Printing can Change Structure’s Shape and Size

Hopes of a more advanced adaptable 3D printing process is quite promising and the applications innumerable. Let us consider a scenario where you find some problems in your 3D printed model. What if you think that the object would have looked better with a different color, or size wasn’t perfect!

You won’t need to discard the object.  Rather, you can use a combination of light and catalyst to change the properties of already 3D printed object. For example, you can change the colour of the already printed 3D objects quite easily with this technology. You can even change the already printed object’s size by adding some polymers into it at varying temperatures. Bonding though fusing different structures with LEDs is also feasible.

In the words of Johnson, “That’s the breakthrough in this paper: We really have a truly living method where we can take macroscopic materials and grow them in the way we want to.”

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