Jun 11, 2015 | By Simon

For those with an interest in the future of material science and additive manufacturing, 2015 has already shaped up to be one of the most exciting years on record and - we’re just barely halfway through.  

So far, we’ve seen how materials are being better prepared to be used for creating space-ready tools here on Earth such as the introduction of Made in Space’s AstroABS filament as well as further developments into creating 3D printed materials that can be intelligently ‘programmed’ to assemble or disassemble various parts of its own structure after being fabricated.

Now, a team at MIT has developed a way of 3D printing soft materials with surface textures that can then be modified on demand to be smooth, ridged or bumpy, which could be useful for changing the aerodynamic resistance or reflectivity of an object on demand.   

The process, which was developed with the aid of detailed computer simulations, involves creating a unique material that is composed of two different polymer agents with contrasting degrees of stiffness; a harder polymer is embedded within a softer polymer.  When deformed - such as through squeezing - the material’s subsequent surface changes reveal the harder polymer material in whichever pattern or spacing was intended during the design and simulation process.  To test the system, computer simulations were created before validating them with 3D printed versions.  


According to the researchers,  who recently published their findings in a paper in the Advanced Functional Materials journal , the process could ultimately lead to a new class of materials that allow for the creation of dynamically controllable and reversible surface properties.  The report was co-authored by MIT graduate student Mark Guttag and Mary Boyce, a former MIT professor of mechanical engineering who is currently the dean of engineering at Columbia University.

“Depending on the arrangement of the particles, using the same amount of compression, you can get different surface topographies, including ridges and bumps, along the surface,” says Guttag.

Depending on the intended applications, the ability to arrange or distribute hard particles to produce highly complex surface textures could have a revolutionary effect on everything from fluid systems to medical implants and camouflage to ship hulls; among other possible uses include the ability to change the flow of a liquid just by simply altering the amount of pressure that is applied to the surface of the material.  Additionally, because the system is completely driven by geometry, designs could be scaled to different sizes will still employing the same underlying principal.  

This animated simulation shows how embedded hard particles within a softer flexible material produce a textured surface when compressed. Credit: Mark Guttag

“There are no previous techniques that provide comparable flexibility for creating dynamically and locally tunable and reversible surface changes,” Guttag and Boyce wrote in their paper.

“This is the first-of-its-kind work to create materials with reconfigurable surface texture,” added Yonggang Huang, a professor at Northwestern University who was not involved in the research.

“The potential practical impact of this work is huge. It can be used in many applications that benefit from the change of surface, such as in optics and tribology [the science of interacting surfaces in motion].” Huang compares this to the development of 3D printing, saying “once the method is developed, people can use it creatively in numerous applications.”



Posted in 3D Printing Applications

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