Jun 8, 2017 | By Benedict

Using a pasty ink made up of water and both solid and liquid forms of silicone, researchers at North Carolina State University have been able to 3D print flexible and porous silicone rubber structures. The technique could be used in biomedicine and soft robotics.

From contact lenses to engine gaskets to ice cube trays, silicones have proven themselves a more-than-versatile group of polymers. It’s therefore unsurprising that researchers and businesses have sought to make silicone 3D printable.

California-based ALT is one of a handful of companies to have developed a silicone 3D printing process, while researchers at the University of Florida unveiled a silicone 3D printing process for medical devices just a few weeks ago.

A group of researchers at North Carolina State University has just become the latest addition to the silicone 3D printing party, developing a 3D printing method that prints with a paste-like ink formed of both liquid and solid forms of silicone. They say their technique is reminiscent of water being used to turn sand particles into sandcastles.

A team led by Orlin Velev, NVISTA Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at NC State, has shown that, in a water medium, liquid silicone rubber can be used to form bridges between tiny silicone rubber beads. The resulting paste can then be 3D printed in a variety of environments—even underwater.

Since the technique can be used in either dry or wet environments, the researchers believe it could be used in live tissue. They envisage biomedical applications, such as a 3D printed soft bandage that could be applied directly onto the human body, as well as uses in the field of soft robotics.

“There is great interest in 3D printing of silicone rubber, or PDMS, which has a number of useful properties,” said Velev. “The challenge is that you generally need to rapidly heat the material or use special chemistry to cure it, which can be technically complex.”

This silicone 3D printing method, on the other hand, requires neither heat application nor special chemistry—something the NC State researchers believe makes the technique highly desirable.

“Our method uses an extremely simple extrudable material that can be placed in a 3D printer to directly prototype porous, flexible structures—even underwater,” Velev said. “And it is all accomplished with a multiphasic system of just two materials—no special chemistry or expensive machinery is necessary.”

The researchers attribute this ease of use to the dual forms of silicone used in the process.

“The 'trick' is that both the beads and the liquid that binds them are silicone, and thus make a very cohesive, stretchable and bendable material after shaping and curing,” Velev explained.

The team’s research paper was published this week in Advanced Materials. Its first author was Sangchul Roh, an NC State Ph.D. candidate. Co-authors included NC State graduate student Dishit Parekh; Bhuvnesh Bharti, a faculty member at Louisiana State University; and Dr. Simeon Stoyanov of Wageningen University in the Netherlands.



Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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