3D Printing

Bioinspired 3D-printing tech makes for strong-but-light structures

The 3D-printed structures range in size from nano- to centimeter-scale
The 3D-printed structures range in size from nano- to centimeter-scale
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The 3D-printed structures range in size from nano- to centimeter-scale
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The 3D-printed structures range in size from nano- to centimeter-scale
The tiny structures are said to be very strong, plus they're porous and offer a large surface area
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The tiny structures are said to be very strong, plus they're porous and offer a large surface area
The process has been used to build accordion-like electronic connections
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The process has been used to build accordion-like electronic connections

Natural materials such as wood and bone owe their high strength-to-weight ratio not just to the materials from which they're made, but to the way in which those materials are structured within them. Led by associate professor Rahul Panat, scientists from Washington State University have devised a 3D printing technique that allows them to mimic such intricate nanoscale structures … and the technology could have a number of practical applications.

The process involves first crushing the build material into nanoparticles – although the researchers chose to use silver, many other materials could be utilized.

Those particles are next mixed with a solvent (ethylene glycol) to form an ink, which is then aerosolized to form a mist made up of individual droplets. An aerosol jet printer is subsequently used to shoot those droplets into precise locations within the 3D structure being built, where they cling together. Finally, heat is applied to evaporate the solvent, and sinter the particles together.

The tiny structures are said to be very strong, plus they're porous and offer a large surface area
The tiny structures are said to be very strong, plus they're porous and offer a large surface area

The resulting tiny structures are said to be very strong, plus they're porous and offer a large surface area. So far, they've been built in shapes such as micro-scaffolds with trusses, donut-shaped pillars, spirals, and accordion-like electronic connections. The process itself is claimed to be fast and efficient, creating very little in the way of waste – no sacrificial supporting structures are required during the creation of the main structure, for instance.

"This is a groundbreaking advance in the 3D architecturing of materials at nano- to macroscales with applications in batteries, lightweight ultra-strong materials, catalytic converters, supercapacitors and biological scaffolds," says Panat. "This technique can fill a lot of critical gaps for the realization of these technologies."

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Science Advances.

Source: Washington State University

1 comment
Mzungu_Mkubwa
Imagine if this could be scaled up to be able to create, for example, structural members for aircraft frames that are a fraction of the weight while being specifically engineered to exhibit strength in the orientation which will optimally support the force loads which the structural member will face during its operational life. To be able to produce such designs quickly, cheaply and with precise repeatability would be fantastic and revolutionary!