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Foldable 3D Printed Implants

The Engineer reports on new 3D printed implants developed by a team of researchers at TU Delft in the Netherlands.  The team’s findings have been published in the journal Materials Horizons. 

What makes these 3D printed implants unique is their cost-effectiveness and their ability to “self-fold according to a pre-planned sequence.”  This ability was inspired by origami.  Lead Researcher Professor Amir Zadpoor explains: “if the goal is to create complex shapes, and it is, some parts should fold sooner than others.  Therefore, we needed to program time delays into the material.  This is called sequential shape-shifting.”

The team accomplished this “by simultaneously printing and stretching the material in certain places.”  As PhD Researcher Teunis van Manen adds: “the stretching is stored inside the material as a memory.  When heated up, the memory is released, and the material wants to go back to its original state.”

“By alternating the thickness and the alignment of the filaments in the material, the researchers succeeded in creating 2D structures that shape-shift sequentially.”  The team used an Ultimaker 3D printer and PLA filament.  This only cost about $20 per kilo.

This origami-inspired process will pave the way for the creation of better bone implants – creating prosthetics with porous interiors.  “This will allow a patient’s own stem cells to move into the structure of the implant and attach themselves to the interior surface area, instead of just coating the exterior.  The end result will be a stronger, more durable implant.  Secondly, with this technique, nanopatterns that guide cell growth can be crafted on the surface of the implant.”

Image, Quotes, and Video Courtesy of The Engineer and TU Delft

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