A team of researchers from the University of Tokyo have developed a method of creating 3D objects using foam materials and expanding them using heat. The technique reminds me of black snake fireworks that produce a snaking carbon emission when exposed to a flame, only the engineers’ approach is controllable and significantly less toxic (mercury sulfide was used for the first fireworks). According to a project blog, ExpandFab is advantageous, as it reduces printing time and transportation costs.
According to the team, “For the fabrication of expanding objects, we investigated a basic principle of the expansion rate and developed materials by mixing a foam powder and elastic adhesive. Furthermore, we developed a fabrication method using the foam materials.” Users can design expanded objects with design software and set the expansion areas on the surface. The software then simulates and exports the 3D model that can be used in a 3D printer, which prints the object and cures it using ultraviolet light.
When the printing process is complete, users can then heat the object, which expands the object to roughly 2.7 times its original size. ExpandFab enables users to prototype 3D objects that grow larger and can morph into various shapes incorporated in the design process, even functional prototypes with embedded electronics.
The team has released a paper that details the ExpandFab technique, the implementation of both hardware and software, application examples, limitations, and what future development will entail. Although it looks to be a great new design method to create 3D expanded objects, I wonder if the resolution will improve with later revisions to the platform.