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Fabricating 3D structures using 2D printing and strain relaxation

In recent years, the study of structural elastic instabilities has experienced a resurgence in
popularity, in part due to studies of buckling. Buckling of rigid materials (metals, concrete, etc.) may lead to permanent damage and structural failure, and can have catastrophic effects. Buckling of soft materials (elastomers, some gels etc.), however, leads to quite different outcomes because structures made of elastomers are capable of sustaining large deformations when submitted to external force, and return to their initial shape without damage. We, thus, may harness these elastic properties for “smart” purposes. For example, buckling, as a design principle, has been used to generate actuation in soft robots, to make tunable graphene-based metamaterials, and to fabricate complex micro/nanomaterials.

This technology from George Whitesides' Group demonstrates a technique to fabricate non-planar (3D) structures using strain relaxation of elastomeric sheets to convert a layered 2D structure into a more complex 3D structure. Complex three-dimensional (3D) structures are ubiquitous in nature. Many complex shapes emerge from initially quasi-planar flat components, by processes that change these initial shapes. Using initially flat (2D) materials to fabricate complex 3D shapes offers many advantagesn over more familiar fabrication techniques because it provides access to the surface of the material and / or the use of highly developed techniques for 2D mass production. This technology demonstrates a technique to fabricate non-planar (3D) structures using strain relaxation of elastomeric sheets to convert a layered 2D structure into a more complex 3D structure. They use a direct-ink writing printer to print on a prestretched elastomeric sheet, and then transform these sheets into 3D structures using the stored elastic energy upon their release.

Intellectual Property Status: Patent(s) Pending

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