Self-assembling Polymers Support Silicone 3D Prints

We all know what the ultimate goal of 3D printing is: to be able to print parts for everything, including our own bodies. To achieve that potential, we need better ways to print soft materials, and that means we need better ways to support prints while they’re in progress.

That’s the focus of an academic paper looking at printing silicone within oil-based microgels. Lead author [Christopher S. O’Bryan] and team from the Soft Matter Research Lab at the University of Florida Gainesville have developed a method using self-assembling polymers soaked in mineral oil as a matrix into which silicone elastomers can be printed. The technique takes advantage of granular microgels that are “jammed” into a solid despite being up to 95% solvent. Under stress, such as that exerted by the nozzle of a 3D printer, the solid unjams into a flowing liquid, allowing the printer to extrude silicone. The microgel instantly jams back into a solid again, supporting the silicone as it cures.

[O’Bryan] et al have used the technique to print a model trachea, a small manifold, and a pump with ball valves. There are Quicktime videos of the finished manifold and pump in action. While we’ve covered flexible printing options before, this technique is a step beyond and something we’re keen to see make it into the hobby printing market.

[LonC], thanks for the tip.

12 thoughts on “Self-assembling Polymers Support Silicone 3D Prints

  1. This could change how implant mounted dentures are made. I am in the process of having these fitted and it seems to me that the dental profession has not seen that mounting dentures solidly in the mouth completely alters how the dentures can be produced. It is now possible to make the inner part of the denture from something rigid (or near rigid) and the outer part, the part in contact with the gums of a soft material. This technology makes automating such a process possible with a 3D printer.

    I say ‘near rigid’ as natural teeth can move slightly in the gums. It is a form of suspension and it protects the teeth from damage. If the inner part of the denture were produced in very hard rubber such as is used in engine mounts then this functionality might be replicated. It would also provide a good ‘snap-fit’ action.

    The cream on the cake, denture wise, would be to coat the inner surface in contact with the gums in a hydrophobic product and the outer part, in contact with food, with a hydrophilic product. I think I’ve got that the right way round.

    Such dentures could be more comfortable and, perhaps, healthier.

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