A research team at the City University of Hong Kong say they have developed a new 4D-printing source material and the first object they printed was a ceramic art piece.

Ceramics have vital across the electronic and engineering sectors to form components and capacitors, but as a rigid material, it cannot be cast or shaped due to its extremely high melting temperature.

Neither can existing 3D-printed techniques produce ceramic matrix composites of complex structures.

Led by CityU’s Vice-President Lu Jian, the team developed a novel “ceramic ink” that is a mixture of polymers and ceramic nanoparticles. It is soft and can be stretched three times beyond its initial length, enabling complex shapes.

180830-1_4Dprinting_0
Prof Lu Jian (left), Dr Liu Guo and their research team have developed the world’s first 4D-printing for ceramics. Photo: Handout

The invention of a novel “ceramic ink” has the potential to turn a new page in the structural application of ceramics, in particular in electronic devices and space exploration.

Ceramic materials are better than metallic ones at transmitting electromagnetic signals. With the arrival of 5G networks, ceramic products have started to assume a more important role in the manufacturing of related equipment and gadgets.

The CityU team used the elastic force of the stretched printer precursor for the shaping of the new ceramic ink. The resultant elastomer-derived ceramics are mechanically robust and come in large, complex sizes with high strength compared to traditionally printed ceramics, but they are also soft and stretchable.

The invention and related data have been published in the international academic journal Science Advances under the title “Origami and 4D printing of elastomer-derived ceramic structures.”

This innovation can be applied in the aerospace industry and space exploration as well. For instance, 4D-printed ceramics can be used as a propulsion component in the aerospace field on strength of their tolerance of high temperatures.