Kristina Shea – “I am excited about 4D printing and our new work in this area including designing reconfigurable and active systems”

Kristina Shea is Professor for Engineering Design and Computing in Mechanical and Processing Engineering at ETH Zürich. Her research focuses on developing cutting-edge computational models, methods, and tools that enable the design of more novel and optimized engineered systems and products as well as to automate design and fabrication processes. Currently, the focus is on methods for 3D and 4D printing as well as computational design synthesis.

Kristina, could you let us know about your background the work you are doing? 

I work in the area of computational design, that is making new types of software to be able to automatically generate, simulate and optimize designs. One goal is to use the computer to generate new designs and solutions that human designers either wouldn’t or couldn’t produce.

What was your very first experience with 3D Printing?

I was working with Prof. Larry Sass at MIT in architecture. In my PhD, I had developed a new method that could generate and optimize freeform, 3D truss structures that appealed to architects. Larry was interested in trying to prototype them using 3D printing, FDM, as assemblies to understand the construction process. I think the use of 3D printing to produce complex assemblies as individual parts and assemble them still has great potential and is underutilized. 

Could you tell us a bit more about the scope of your research?

Our current research focuses mainly on creating new computational design tools for structures and mechanical systems that are fully integrated with 3D printing. For example, automatically generating customized roller blade wheels, optimizing the material distribution in lattice structures, and generating unique passive dynamic robots, all of which can be directly 3D printed. A new area of research is designing and 3D printing reconfigurable and active structures, or 4D printing. The fourth dimension is time and the structures can reconfigure, or deploy, themselves in response to the environment, e.g. temperature.

What applications would be concerned?

Applications include consumer products, lattice structures for automotive, aerospace, medical implants or buildings, and robotics.

What does “automation of design and fabrication processes” mean in your research?

This means that we automate the whole process from the generation of design alternatives to their simulation and optimization and right through to their 3D printing to produce end-use parts.

How challenging is it to get to this point?

The new challenge when linking to 3D printing is a detailed understanding of the material properties and mechanical behavior of 3D printed parts. This is critical to produce end-use, functional parts and systems. We don’t want to require any post-processing and so models of 3D printed materials and mechanical behavior have to be created and included directly in our methods. We end up doing a lot more material testing than I initially anticipated.

Do you have a favorite 3D tool?

Rhino / Grasshoper

A favorite software?

Our own in-house, research code.

A favorite machine and material? 

Objet 500 Connex3 multi-material printer

A material wishlist?

Better functional, polymer materials and also recyclable, compostable, biodegradable and biocompatible materials.

Have you run into any challenges from being a woman researcher?

Unfortunately, yes. I continue to be amazed at how little has changed since I was a student.

Anything exciting coming up you’d like us to know about?

Yes. I’m giving a keynote talk at the Additive Manufacturing and Functional Materials Symposium, June 22-23, 2017 at the University of Washington in Seattle as well as at the Solid and Physical Modeling (SPM) Symposia at Berkeley University June 19-21, 2017.

What is the most impressive or impactful use of 3D printing you’ve seen so far?

I’m most excited about 4D printing in general and our new work in this area including designing reconfigurable and active structural systems. There are still many material and design challenges and I’m convinced that this is the future of 3D printing.

What makes the 3D printing industry particularly interesting for you?

I went into mechanical engineering partly because I liked to “make stuff”. Connecting computational design with 3D printing enables us to do this more easily making the designs we compute immediately tangible. Moving my research in this direction has also led us to explore new avenues of research with more emphasis on materials, structures and creating designs that can be produced.

What do you think of the 3D printing industry today? And how would you like to see it evolve?

My biggest hope for the 3D printing industry is that it fosters creativity in designers, engineers, and the general public. 3D printing breaks down some constraints of traditional manufacturing and also opens access to fabrication of complex objects. My biggest fear though is that long-term it will lead to more senseless waste, especially plastic waste. We need to think about this now.

In your opinion, how could we encourage more women to become involved with 3D Printing?

I think since the area is still new there are fewer barriers and it is also so broad with applications from jewelry to medical implants to aerospace that it leaves a lot of room for women to get involved where they are interested.


Thank you for reading and for sharing! If you’d like to hear more from Kristina on 3D and 4D printing, we recommend checking her intervention at the World Economic Forum in Davos here. 

We invite you to join Women in 3D Printing on LinkedIn and to like our Facebook page for further discussion.

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