6.03 4D printing – 4D printing for the automation sector

Irene Fassi
Gennaio 2023
Dicembre 2025
Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche

Politecnico di Milano, Università degli studi di Napoli Federico II, Politecnico di Bari, Università degli Studi di Padova, Politecnico di Torino, Università degli Studi di Palermo, Leonardo S.p.A., Prima Additive S.R.L. 

6.03 4D printing – 4D printing for the automation sector

The project 6.6 – 4D printing investigates solutions for 4D printing of programmable materials, considering both polymeric based substrates, such as silicones, polyamides, photocurable resins, and shape memory alloys (SMA) to fabricate elements, at the micro and meso scale, exhibiting actuating and morphing properties.
The main aim is to explore 4D printing strategies relying on the use of time evolving adaptive materials, which are able to change their properties/shape in a controlled manner upon an external stimulus.

The activities include novel 4D design of complex structures, manufacturing of specimens and prototyping by several AM technologies, post processing and surface finishing and a wide-range structural and functional properties investigations. SMA element will be also embedded in thermoplastic polymers for realizing active SMA/polymer composites.

Target applications lie in the automation sector, and include grasping devices and actuators.

The project is composed of two tasks:

6.6.1 Shape changing mechanical systems based on programmable materials
This task will investigate the fabrication of programmable morphologies of flexible electro/magnetic materials, obtained by 3D structuring of polymer composites incorporating magnetic responsive particles or by printing suitable designed conductive patterns on flexible substrates. The magnetic particles can either be magnetically soft, not retaining their magnetization when an applied magnetic field is removed, or magnetically hard, retaining some magnetization.
The capabilities of several 3D printing technologies, such as two photon polymerization, stereolithography, inkjet printing will be investigated to fabricate grasping devices at the micro and meso scale.

6.6.2 AM of low dimension complex structure exhibiting shape memory and superelasticity for actuating and morphing.
In this TASK, AM technologies are applied for manufacturing complex meta structures time evolving under external stimuli, such as temperature change or applied stress. The design of the meta-structures will be supported by numerical simulations (FEA), in order to optimize the cell topology according to the application.
NiTi base alloys will be processed mainly by laser powder bed fusion (LPBF) AM techniques also equipped with different laser sources for evaluating the relative vaporization of elements that strongly affect functional properties of the final components. Both the pre-alloyed powders and pure metals powder approaches will be experimented for reaching high homogeneity AM products. Strategies for real time process monitoring will be implemented. Furthermore, we plan to investigate the feasibility of process chains combining AM and finishing (mechanical, chemical and electrochemical) processes to control the shape memory and superelasticity of Nitinol. Moreover, AM Nitinol elements will be embedded in thermoplastic polymer for realizing active metal/polymer composite devices. Finally, the produced material and components will be tested by a wide range of characterization procedures including microstructural, high cycle and very high cycle fatigue, surface finishing and thermo-mechanical tests for functional testing and process optimizing.


The expected results achievable by the project activities include:

  • Comprehensive analysis of the technological and scientific gaps in methodologies and tools for the design of 4D structures, for materials based on both polymer and Nitinol;
  • Methodologies and guidelines for AM manufacturing of low dimension polymer and Nitinol-based meta-structures.
  • Approaches and strategies for finishing low dimension Nitinol structures;
  • Methodologies and tools for Very High Cycles Fatigue (VHCF) analysis in super elastic condition;-Methodologies and tools for numerical simulations (FEA) of Nitinol based structures
  • Functionalized SMA/polymer composites.