Mar 7, 2017 | By Benedict

Researchers at Washington State University have developed a new 3D printing method for creating complex, bio-like materials. The method allows for control over the material's architecture from the nanoscale to centimeters.

Unfortunately for those in the forestry and medical industries, it is not yet possible to 3D print materials like wood and bone. It is, however, becoming easier to make artificial materials which mimic those organic ones. Washington State University researchers have just developed a 3D printing technique which can be used to fabricate materials with precisely controlled physical properties, allowing them to print out convincing replicas of wood, bone, and other materials. A study documenting their findings has been published in Science Advances.

According to the researchers, the new 3D printing method could have applications in engineering. “This is a groundbreaking advance in the 3D architecturing of materials at nano- to macroscales with applications in batteries, lightweight ultrastrong materials, catalytic converters, supercapacitors, and biological scaffolds,” said Rahul Panat, associate professor in WSU’s School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering and lead author of the study. “This technique can fill a lot of critical gaps for the realization of these technologies.”

The 3D printing method developed by the WSU researchers involves creating foglike microdroplets that contain nanoparticles of silver. Using an Optomec Aerosol Jet 300 printer, these microdroplets can be deposited in precise locations, after which the fog evaporates, leaving behind intricate nanoparticle structures. These incredible-looking 3D printed structures are porous, strong, and have an extremely large surface area due to their complex shape.

3D printed microstructure (above) and naturally occuring desert rose (below)

While the WSU researchers chose to use silver because it is easy to work with, any other material that can be crushed into nanoparticles could be used instead, making the technique extremely versatile. With silver, however, the researchers were able to create a number of spectacular 3D printed structures: microscaffolds that contain solid truss members like a bridge, spirals, electronic connections that resemble accordion bellows, and doughnut-shaped pillars.

The 3D printing process, which creates little waste and allows for fast and large-scale manufacturing, actually mimics a similar process that occurs in nature: in extremely hot deserts, tiny fog droplets containing sulfur evaporate, creating amazing crystal clusters that look like jeweled or fossilized flowers. These clusters are colloquially known as “desert roses.”

Industrial applications for the 3D printing process include developing finely detailed, porous anodes and cathodes for batteries. These could replace the solid structures currently used, and would have a greater capacity and charging speed.

The study concludes that the 3D printing research, “in addition to being an important advance in microscale bottom-up assembly of nanoparticles, bridges a length scale gap between nanoscale and microscale architectures and the macroscale device sizes required for real-world applications.”



Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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