Lamination type is not sufficient for manufacturing

When the now-widespread 3D printer made its appearance, former President Obama praised it by saying that “3D printing has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything.”

Conventionally, the designer of a three-dimensional object brought a design drawing to a manufacturing site and the like and entrusted the manufacturer to give it shape. However, the 3D printer, which can be placed beside a desk, can give shape to what the designer designed right then and there. This means that the 3D printer is a revolutionary device.

The 3D printer takes a cross section of a structure from three-dimensional CAD data at a prescribed interval, obtains the points of the outer periphery of each cross section, sprays a melted material such as resin on the points, and laminates the resin. This is why the printer is called a lamination type 3D printer.

There are two types of methods for manufacturing an artificial object. One is a method that forms the object with a melted material. The other is a method that assembles the object by folding a material that has been made into a flat plate shape.

For example, in the case of a car, a part like the engine is formed with a melted material, and a part like the body is made by folding a flat plate.

This means that the lamination type 3D printer follows the method that makes an object with a melted material, but actually there are objects that cannot be easily made or are impossible to make by this method alone.

Therefore, our research group has been developing an origami type 3D printer that makes an object by folding a flat plate.

With origami techniques, you make a three-dimensional shape by folding a sheet of flat paper into a mountain shape and a valley shape in order. This means that origami does not work if you do not know which part should be folded into a mountain shape or a valley shape to make the expected three-dimensional shape.

Therefore, we have developed a system for making a development plan with mountain fold lines and valley fold lines from three-dimensional CAD data that is also used by the lamination type 3D printer. Once the shape to be made is determined, you will know how to fold a flat plate-like material to make the shape.

The origami type 3D printer has features that the lamination type 3D printer does not have.

Various features of the origami type 3D printer

One of the features is that the origami type 3D printer can be used on any type of material.

In the case of the lamination type 3D printer, currently, resin is mainly used as the material. Of course, any type of material, such as paper or iron, can be used as long as it melts and can be laminated. However, considering the cost, it would be meaningless to take that much trouble to use paper.

There is a device that melts and laminates iron, but it is still very expensive and very large. In this case, the 3D printer would lose its original advantage of being able to be placed beside a desk and to immediately output the design by the designer.

On the other hand, in the case of the origami type 3D printer, if the material is paper and the like, a person can fold the material based on the created development plan. We have been working to develop a robot that, when the material is an iron plate or the like, can fold the material.

In this way, after the designer inputs three-dimensional CAD data, he or she can obtain a three-dimensional object that is folded with a preferred material.

In addition, we have developed a system that makes a development plan from a picture taken of what you want to make into an artificial object, such as a person or an animal, for example. Even without making CAD data, it will be possible to make a three-dimensional object.

Moreover, unlike the lamination type 3D printer, which cannot make an object larger than the size of the device, it will be possible for the origami type 3D printer, which makes an object based on a development plan, to make an object larger than the size of the device. For example, it will be possible to make a life-size human figure in three dimensions.

In addition, the greatest feature of the origami type 3D printer that has been drawing global attention is the ability to create a meta material.

Meta materials are materials that have properties that materials existing in nature do not have, by artificially making alterations. For example, an artificial object having a property that completely blocks sound vibrations, which is generally impossible, and the like have been made.

One such property is the property of expanding and collapsing. This is the property of expanding or collapsing a shape as needed. You might have heard the news of such a meta material being used in the solar battery panels of space crafts.

Japanese origami techniques have been applied to this case. The technique is to efficiently fold a large panel to make it smaller and load it onto a rocket, and in space, easily expand the panel to its original size from the collapsed state.

The origami type 3D printer can easily make the meta material that has such an expanding and collapsing property.

Conventionally, even when there was the idea of a meta material, the shape was often complicated and could not be easily made. However, the origami type 3D printer can make a development plan to make the shape out of the idea.

Moreover, by adding kirigami (paper cutting) techniques, which are also techniques developed in Japan, we have been developing a system that makes a development plan including not only folding lines, but also cutting lines.

The algorithm we have developed makes it possible to make a continuous development plan of a complicated honeycomb structure and the like, which was difficult to make using origami techniques, by applying kirigami techniques.

Innovation begins with the origami type 3D printer

Moreover, we have been developing the origami robot, but so have people been all over the world. However, such developments have not been going well. One of the reasons is that as you fold the material, when parts folded in a complicated manner overlap with each other, the part that was first folded returns to its original state.

However, as we advanced the research, we found that people such as Japanese people, who are skillful with their fingers and good at origami, advance to the next folding step while unconsciously holding the part that has already been folded with a part of their hand. This may also be the reason why Japanese people can do origami, which is difficult for foreigners.

In addition, there is not only one, but many development plans for making a certain three-dimensional object. However, we found that the folding method of Japanese origami that has become widely known is not easy, but somewhat difficult. Probably people can enjoy origami better that way.

However, it is difficult for the manipulator, which is robot fingers, to use such origami techniques. Therefore, we have developed an algorithm for making a development plan that derives a method of folding a material that can be done even by the manipulator.

A development series for the algorithm that makes a development plan in which the kirigami techniques are added to the origami techniques, and for a robot and a manipulator that folds the development plan will put the origami type 3D printer to practical use.

If the origami type 3D printer is put to practical use, the creation of a meta materials will be accelerated, and mass production of meta materials will be possible.

Since creation of a meta material can be easily achieved, tremendous efforts throughout the world have been made to develop a device like the origami type 3D printer. In particular, a combined team of MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and Harvard University, and the University of Bristol in England are the two major research bases.

Still, origami and kirigami are cultures and techniques nurtured in Japan. That is why we were able to have ideas and viewpoints unique to the Japanese people in the development of the algorithm for making the development plan and the manipulator.

We intend to put this merit to good use to lead to the implementation of the origami type 3D printer.

Actually, it was a Japanese researcher Hideo Kodama who first published the basic technology of the lamination type 3D printer.

However, American engineers implemented the technology. As a result, most of the lamination type 3D printers available now are manufactured in the U.S. We do not want to repeat this history.

This is because, although the lamination type 3D printer was praised as something revolutionary, the origami type 3D printer, which makes it easy to create meta materials, will have a larger impact.

The reason why the origami type 3D printer has a larger impact is that future innovation is believed to be achieved through meta materials. Such innovation will have an influence not only on fields such as space industry, but also on various fields that surround us, such as the medical industry.

I hope that you will pay attention to meta materials that will produce innovation in our future society and the origami type 3D printer that will make it possible to realize the innovation through the meta materials. I also expect that many people will enter this research and development field.

As the first step, enjoy origami and kirigami, Japan’s traditional culture, and be interested in them.

* The information contained herein is current as of April 2022.
* The contents of articles on are based on the personal ideas and opinions of the author and do not indicate the official opinion of Meiji University.
* I work to achieve SDGs related to the educational and research themes that I am currently engaged in.

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