3D printers are used in industrial, research and consumer applications. The drawback of these applications is that the printed objects must be smaller than the machines that make them. When large parts are needed, larger 3D printers are needed, and there are many practical limitations to the size of these printers.
Now, researchers have created a new, expandable foam 3D-printed material that, when heated, the printer can create smaller objects that can expand themselves to create larger objects. The expansion of this foam material looks like a spray foam-insulated aerosol tank that people may use from time to time.
The expandable foam printing material was developed by scientists at the University of California, San Diego. The team hopes to create an expandable resin that can print large objects with cheap, commercially available 3D printers. The researchers tested several different resin formulations to find an object that can be printed to expand at heat.
The resin formula is used to print a hollow lattice-shaped sphere. The sphere is heated so that the volatile components of the resin come out in the form of gas. The result is a porous polystyrene foam-like material that is 40 times larger than the original print.
The researchers were also able to print out many other shapes, including a ship that, at its expanded size, could carry about 20 times the weight. They also 3D printed a wind turbine that could generate a small amount of electricity at its larger size. The team points out that the new material is not as strong as polystyrene foam, but it could one day be used for buffering, wings, elastic aids, or the astronaut’s expandable habitat.