From 3Der.org comes this story of some amazing materials research being done at Hasso-Plattner-Institute. The team has developed a way of designing and 3D printing non-powered objects that they consider machines.

The above video explains the process in detail, but basically, these “metamaterials” (i.e. objects with a specially-designed internal microstructure) are designed so that pushing or squeezing some part of them creates movement within a honeycomb-like internal structure, causing the “cells” of the honeycomb to “shear” (deform), allowing the object to actuate in some way (e.g. to act as a latch, hinge, or liner actuator).

metamaterial-mechanisms-3dprinting-04Here, the team describes how the “shearing cells” work:

The key element behind our metamaterial mechanisms is a specialized type of cell, the only ability of which is to shear. Unlike the rigid cell, this shear cell is designed to deform when a force is applied, more specifically to shear, which allows for controlled directional movement.

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To create the microstructure for these mechanisms, the team developed special design software. This metamaterials editor does not appear to be available to anyone, yet, but one can imagine that we’ll see such a thing soon.

As 3D printing becomes more common, and 3D design thinking becomes more pervasive, more engineers, whether pros or amateurs, will be designing with the microstructure of materials in mind. And how that structure can be exploited to do useful, amazing things, like change shape and motivate!

You can read the full paper from the Hasso-Plattner’s research team here [PDF].