3D Results with 2D Printing Methods

Scientist from NCSU have recently invented a 2D printing technique allowing plastic sheets to bend into curved 3D structures, such as tubes or bowls.

2d printing

Recently, one could have gotten the impression that 3D printing is the glory star of the printing industry, leaving 2D printing outstripped. A discovery by researchers at North Carolina State University (NCSU) (LINK: https://www.ncsu.edu/) puts 2D printing back into focus now. And it is nothing less than its capacity to create 3D results, which draws the attention.

Bending Plastics into 3D Structures Using Ink

NCSU’s newly invented technique allows plastic sheets to bend into curved 3D structures, such as tubes or bowls. Everything needed is the sheet, a household printer such as an inkjet printer, and infrared light. The printer prints black-inked lines onto the plastic sheet, which, under the heat of the infrared light, bends – but only its inked parts, as the printed lines absorb more energy from the light, which leads to the desired contraction:

“By controlling the number of lines and the distribution of ink on the surface of the material, we can produce any number of curved shapes,”

says Michael Dickey, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at NC State.

“All of the shapes use the same amount of ink; it’s simply a matter of where the ink is applied on the plastic.”

A computation model predicting the shapes – based on the patterns – has also been developed by the team.

Preceding Models

Surely, using 2D printing for the purpose of shaping objects is nothing new. The researchers themselves have formerly managed to contract plastic by using this technique. Yet, the plastic only folded along sharp lines – into polygonal shapes such as cubes or pyramids.

Also, it is already possible to let soft materials like hydrogels bend into 3D-curved structures. But using firmer material for this purpose is a new approach:

“Other researchers have developed techniques for creating self-curving materials, but they did this using soft materials, such as hydrogels,”

says Amber Hubbard, a Ph.D. student at NC State and co-lead author of the paper.

“Our work is the first attempt to accomplish the same using thermoplastics – which are stronger and stiffer than the soft materials. That makes them more attractive for use in performing some practical actions, such as gripping an object.”

Furthermore, opposed to soft material, theirs would hold its shape after removing the light.

A Model to Compete with 3D Printing?

Certainly, this discovery could open up new possibilities, especially in contrast to the still expensive direct 3D printing. The sheets could simply be piled and sent to the customer who could then transform them into the desired shape using the tools mentioned above. But that is still up in the air. Plus:

“One of our goals is to fine-tune this model […],”

Jan Genzer, co-corresponding author, states.

“Ultimately, we’d like to be able to input a desired 3[…]D shape into the model and have it create a pattern that we can print and produce.”

Then the pack could be reshuffled.

Do you think 2D printing needs to re-invent itself in order to survive? Leave us your view in the comment section next to this blog post.


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