New Advances in 3D Printing: Printing Electronics and Cells for Skin Diseases and Printing Self-Folding Materials

3D printers are going to be used much more in the near future, and advances like this show why.

In a groundbreaking new study, researchers at the University of Minnesota used a customized, low-cost 3D printer to print electronics on a real hand for the first time. The technology could be used by soldiers on the battlefield to print temporary sensors on their bodies to detect chemical or biological agents or solar cells to charge essential electronics.

Researchers also successfully printed biological cells on the skin wound of a mouse. The technique could lead to new medical treatments for wound healing and direct printing of grafts for skin disorders.

The research study was published today on the inside back cover of the academic journal Advanced Materials.

“We are excited about the potential of this new 3D-printing technology using a portable, lightweight printer costing less than $400,” said Michael McAlpine, the study’s lead author and the University of Minnesota Benjamin Mayhugh Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering. “We imagine that a soldier could pull this printer out of a backpack and print a chemical sensor or other electronics they need, directly on the skin. It would be like a ‘Swiss Army knife’ of the future with everything they need all in one portable 3D printing tool.”

One of the key innovations of the new 3D-printing technique is that this printer can adjust to small movements of the body during printing. Temporary markers are placed on the skin and the skin is scanned. The printer uses computer vision to adjust to movements in real-time.

“No matter how hard anyone would try to stay still when using the printer on the skin, a person moves slightly and every hand is different,” McAlpine said. “This printer can track the hand using the markers and adjust in real-time to the movements and contours of the hand, so printing of the electronics keeps its circuit shape.”

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In addition to electronics, the new 3D-printing technique paves the way for many other applications, including printing cells to help those with skin diseases. McAlpine’s team partnered with University of Minnesota Department of Pediatrics doctor and medical school Dean Jakub Tolar, an expert on treating rare skin disease. The team successfully used a bioink to print cells on a mouse skin wound, which could lead to advanced medical treatments for those with skin diseases.

Video: https://youtu.be/DTXqUrmr3FQ

Other article: Cheap 3-D printer can produce self-folding materials

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have used an inexpensive 3-D printer to produce flat plastic items that, when heated, fold themselves into predetermined shapes, such as a rose, a boat or even a bunny.

Lining Yao, assistant professor in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute and director of the Morphing Matter Lab, said these self-folding plastic objects represent a first step toward products such as flat-pack furniture that assume their final shapes with the help of a heat gun. Emergency shelters also might be shipped flat and fold into shape under the warmth of the sun.

Self-folding materials are quicker and cheaper to produce than solid 3-D objects, making it possible to replace noncritical parts or produce prototypes using structures that approximate the solid objects. Molds for boat hulls and other fiberglass products might be inexpensively produced using these materials.

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Though these early examples are at a desktop scale, making larger self-folding objects appears feasible.

“We believe the general algorithm and existing material systems should enable us to eventually make large, strong self-folding objects, such as chairs, boats or even satellites,” said Jianzhe Gu, HCII research intern.

Video: https://vimeo.com/265829811