Feb 10, 2017 | By Tess

A team of researchers has made a breakthrough in the field of 3D printing materials by developing a group of 3D printable, extremely stretchable, UV-curable (SUV) elastomers. The new elastomer materials, which can be stretched up to 1,100%, are being heralded as the “most stretchable” 3D printing materials ever.

The elastomer project is the result of a collaboration between researchers from the Singapore University of Technology and Design’s Digital Manufacturing and Design Centre (DManD), the Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise (CREATE), and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HUJI). Both DManD and CREATE are funded by the Singapore National Research Foundation (NRF). Research surrounding the project was recently published in Journal of Advanced Materials under the title “Highly Stretchable and UV Curable Elastomers for Digital Light Processing Based 3D Printing.”

Elastomers, defined as organic or synthetic polymers with elastic properties, have proved invaluable for a wide range of applications, including the making of soft robotics, biomedical devices, and flexible electronics. Their use within additive manufacturing, however, has remained somewhat limited because of the thermal curing process necessary for their treatment. The most popular elastomers, silicon rubber-based materials, have until now necessitated more traditional manufacturing techniques, such as molding, cutting, and casting.

At this point, you may be telling yourself that you’re familiar with 3D printable elastomer materials, and that they do already exist. And while this is true—there are elastomer materials that are commercially available for UV light 3D printing—those on the market cannot stretch beyond 200% once they’ve been cured, a restriction that makes them much less useful for many professional applications.

3D printed buckyball light switch

Now, however, the joint team of researchers has developed a 3D printable elastomer that, once cured, can stretch up to 1,100%, likely making it the stretchiest 3D printable material in existence. As Assistant Professor Qi Ge from the SUTD's DManD Centre, one of the co-leaders on the project, said: “We have developed the most stretchable 3D printable elastomer in the world. Our new elastomers can be stretched by up to 1100% which is more than five times the elongation at break of any commercially available elastomer that is suitable for UV curing based 3D printing techniques.”

As the researchers explain, they were able to successfully 3D print complex 3D lattices and structures using the SUV elastomer compositions and high-resolution 3D printing processes. No longer tethered by the design limitations of traditional manufacturing processes, the 3D printable SUV elastomers could mean a huge step forwards in many fields that require elastomeric materials.

Being able to 3D print elastomers of such a high caliber could, in addition to making complex structures and geometries, cut back significantly on manufacturing times: “Compared to traditional molding and casting methods, using UV curing based 3D printing with the SUV elastomers significantly reduces the fabrication time from many hours, even days, to a few minutes or hours as the complicated and time-consuming fabrication steps such as mold-building, molding/demolding, and part assembly are replaced by a single 3D printing step," explained Dr. Ge.

The SUV elastomers have also reportedly shown good mechanical repeatability, making them suitable for use in flexible electronics. This feature was demonstrated by the researchers, who 3D printed a buckyball light switch using the elastomer, and pressed it 1000 times. After the testing, the light switch still worked normally.

Professor Shlomo Magdassi, a co-leader of the research project at HUJI and CREATE, concluded by saying: “Overall, we believe the SUV elastomers, together with the UV curing based 3D printing techniques, will significantly enhance the capability of fabricating soft and deformable 3D structures and devices including soft actuators and robots, flexible electronics, acoustic metamaterials, and many other applications.”



Posted in 3D Printing Materials



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Jack T wrote at 2/25/2017 1:22:49 AM:

If you look at the experimental of the article, they only demonstrate printing with a material composition that stretches 270%. They photocure a composition that gets to 1100%, but they never even printed it. Probably because it's too viscous (Ebecryl 8413 is 35,000cp, like hair gel).

Fergal C wrote at 2/10/2017 8:09:00 PM:

Well. Yes and no. People have been printing silicones such as Smooth-On Dragon Skin or EcoFlex for many years now, using Direct Ink Writing printing techniques. These materials can have elongations between 900% to 1100%.

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