An ink for 3D-printing flexible devices without mechanical joints

The lab’s DNGE prototype “finger” with inflexible “bones” surrounded by versatile “flesh.” Credit: Adrian Alberola

EPFL researchers are concentrating on the subsequent technology of sentimental actuators and robots with an elastomer-based ink for 3D printing objects with domestically altering mechanical properties, eliminating the necessity for cumbersome mechanical joints.

For engineers engaged on soft robotics or wearable devices, preserving issues gentle is a continuing problem: heavier supplies require extra vitality to maneuver round, and—within the case of wearables or prostheses—trigger discomfort.

Elastomers are synthetic polymers that may be manufactured with a spread of mechanical properties, from stiff to stretchy, making them a well-liked materials for such purposes. However manufacturing elastomers that may be formed into advanced 3D constructions that go from inflexible to rubbery has been unfeasible till now.

“Elastomers are usually cast so that their composition cannot be changed in all three dimensions over short length scales. To overcome this problem, we developed DNGEs: 3D-printable double network granular elastomers that can vary their mechanical properties to an unprecedented degree,” says Esther Amstad, head of the Tender Supplies Laboratory in EPFL’s Faculty of Engineering.

Eva Baur, a Ph.D. scholar in Amstad’s lab, used DNGEs to print a prototype “finger,” full with inflexible “bones” surrounded by versatile “flesh.” The finger was printed to deform in a pre-defined method, demonstrating the know-how’s potential to fabricate units which can be sufficiently supple to bend and stretch, whereas remaining agency sufficient to govern objects.

With these benefits, the researchers imagine that DNGEs might facilitate the design of sentimental actuators, sensors, and wearables freed from heavy, cumbersome mechanical joints. The analysis has been published within the journal Superior Supplies.

Two elastomeric networks, twice as versatile

The important thing to the DNGEs’ versatility lies in engineering two elastomeric networks. First, elastomer microparticles are produced from oil-in-water emulsion drops. These microparticles are positioned in a precursor answer, the place they soak up elastomer compounds and swell up.

The swollen microparticles are then used to make a 3D printable ink, which is loaded right into a bioprinter to create a desired construction. The precursor is polymerized throughout the 3D-printed construction, making a second elastomeric community that rigidifies all the object.

Whereas the composition of the primary community determines the construction’s stiffness, the second determines its fracture toughness, which means that the 2 networks will be fine-tuned independently to attain a mix of stiffness, toughness, and fatigue resistance.

The usage of elastomers over hydrogels—the fabric utilized in state-of-the-art approaches—has the added benefit of making constructions which can be water-free, making them extra steady over time. To high it off, DNGEs will be printed utilizing commercially obtainable 3D printers.

“The beauty of our approach is that anyone with a standard bioprinter can use it,” Amstad emphasizes.

One thrilling potential software of DNGEs is in units for motion-guided rehabilitation, the place the flexibility to assist motion in a single route whereas proscribing it in one other could possibly be extremely helpful.

Additional improvement of DNGE know-how might lead to prosthetics, and even movement guides to help surgeons. Sensing distant actions, for instance in robot-assisted crop harvesting or underwater exploration, is one other space of software.

Amstad says that the Tender Supplies Lab is already engaged on the subsequent steps towards growing such purposes by integrating energetic parts—corresponding to responsive supplies and electrical connections—into DNGE constructions.

Extra data:
Eva Baur et al, 3D Printing of Double Community Granular Elastomers with Domestically Various Mechanical Properties, Superior Supplies (2024). DOI: 10.1002/adma.202313189

An ink for 3D-printing versatile units with out mechanical joints (2024, April 18)
retrieved 26 April 2024

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