Sep 18, 2018 | By Thomas

Researchers from the Complex Materials and Soft Materials team at ETH Zurich have developed a bioinspired approach to 3D print lightweight structures using cheap desktop FDM printers and liquid-crystal-polymers. For the first time, they were able to print objects from a single recyclable material with mechanical properties that surpass all other available printable polymers and can compete even with fibre-reinforced composites.

3D Printing hierarchical, thermotropic LCPs using fused deposition modelling.

Fibre-reinforced polymer structures are often used when stiff lightweight materials are required, such as in aircraft, vehicles and biomedical implants. Despite their very high stiffness and strength, such  lightweight materials require energy- and labour- intensive fabrication processes. Furthermore, the results are brittle, easily fratured and difficult to shape and recycle.

The researchers were inspired by two materials that can be found in Nature – spider silk and wood. Spider silk gets its unrivalled mechanical properties from the high degree of molecular alignment of the silk proteins along the fibre directions. By using a liquid crystal polymer (LCP) as an FDM feedstock material, researchers were able to reproduce this high alignment. Also, the anisotropic fibre properties were utilised by tailoring the local orientation of the print path according to the specific loading conditions imposed by the environment. This design principle is inspired by the ability of living tissue like wood to arrange fibres along the stress lines developed throughout the loaded structure as it grows and adapts to its environment.

3D printed samples of specimens with print lines following the stress lines and the biological inspiration represented by a wood knot.

The resulting 3D printed LCP structures demonstrate hierarchical architectures, complex geometries and unprecedented stiffness and toughness. In fact, they are much stronger than the state-of-the-art 3D printed polymers, said the researchers. "The ability to combine the top-down shaping freedom of 3D printing with bottom-up molecular control over polymer orientation opens up the possibility to freely design and realize structures without the typical restrictions of current manufacturing processes."

Mechanical properties and complex geometry of 3D-printed LCP laminates and parts.All images: ETH Zurich

The technology is expected to be a game-changer in several structural, biomedical and energy-harvesting applications where high-performance lightweight materials are required. As this research was conducted using a readily available polymer and a commercial desktop printer, the researchers hope that broader additive manufacturing and open source communities could adopt this new material and digitally design and fabricate strong and complex lightweight objects from LCPs.



Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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John Syrinek wrote at 9/19/2018 6:48:13 AM:

I think the link is broken - it takes us back to the same page.

John Syrinek wrote at 9/19/2018 6:46:51 AM:

I think the link is broken - it takes us back to the same page.

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