Employing the same physical forces that power Shrinky Dinks, researchers at North Carolina State University may have just created the future of product packaging—2D polymer sheets that bend into 3D forms when exposed to UV light.

The process is actually really simple—the researchers first pre-stressed a polymer sheet, then ran it through a inkjet printer. This creates a series of black lines along each folding edge. A 2D pattern of the object is then cut from the polymer sheet and placed under UV light. The black ink absorbs heat from the UV light and coaxes the polymer sheet to constrict along the stress lines like hinges. The degree of the bend is determined by the width of the printed black line while the direction of the bend is determined by which side of the sheet pre-stressing is applied to.

This could be the next big thing in packaging. Instead of devoting resources to printing, folding, and assembling cardboard boxes, products could just get a shot of UV light while sitting atop a sheet of this stuff. And, since the process can essentially be done on current industry-standard printing methods—i.e. roll-to-roll or screen printing—it can be implemented right now. [North Carolina State University via Gizmag]


You can keep up with Andrew Tarantola, the author of this post, on Twitter or Google+.