Oct 19, 2016 | By Tess

The development of new 3D printing materials is really at the core of the advancement of additive manufacturing technologies, so it is hardly surprising that we get very excited about new material development projects which have lots of potential and promise. Recently, a team of researchers from the University of Melbourne in Australia peaked our interest with their 3D printable smart polymers, which are currently in development.

The research team has devised a method for 3D printing smart polymers—essentially plastics that can perform some sort of function—in a way that is both cheaper and cleaner than before. The team, led by Dr. Luke Connal from the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, recently published its research paper “Three Dimensional Printing of pH-Responsive and Functional Polymers on an Affordable Desktop Printer” in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces this week.

As mentioned, the materials being developed by Dr. Connal’s team are “smart polymers” which means that not only can they be 3D printed to create virtually limitless objects and shapes, but, once printed, can also perform certain functions depending on the environment they are in, such as transforming through chemical reactions. These functions could include cleaning up and removing environmental toxins, for instance.

Impressively, the innovative materials are not being designed for use on top-grade industrial 3D printers, as the research team has developed them to be accessible. Specifically, the new materials being developed will be compatible with most desktop 3D printers, so virtually anyone would use them. “Basically we are trying to add function to these 3D printed objects. Rather than just having a inanimate printed object, we are creating something that you can do something else with,” Dr. Connal explains.

As the research paper explains, the smart polymers have a wide range of applications, such as accelerating a chemical reaction with the addition of a catalyst for the treatment of environmental pollutants or as flow regulation. For the former, the researchers placed a 3D printed polymer catalyst into a contaminated water solution and saw that over time, the object helped to clean the water, neutralizing the toxins. Of course, these are just a couple of potential applications, as the research team will continue to advance and work on more applications.

So far, however, the research team has made significant strides, thanks in part to PhD student Milena Nadgorny, whose experience in chemical engineering and materials science as well as her expertise in inkjet printing from having worked at HP have been crucial to the research. As Dr. Connal says, “We dreamt this up and Milena started it. Our expertise is making polymers. We saw the opportunity to make polymers that change shape or change properties with a trigger and we set out to develop methods to feed these polymers into a 3D Printer.”

Essentially, to develop the smart polymers, the research team had to find a method for making a filament from the material which could be subsequently fed into the 3D printer, melted, and turned solid again in the 3D printing process. This process required finding optimal shapes, compositions, and properties, both for the material to be “smart” but also for it to be 3D printable.

“This is early research for us in the area of functional polymers and 3D printing and we believe there is scope to further develop the work and to partner with industry in creating novel solutions with these new smart materials,” concluded Dr. Connal.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Materials

 

 

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