Elastomers offer a number of useful material properties
, including elasticity, resilience, electrical, and thermal insulation. This makes the materials ideal for manufacturing soft robots, developing flexible electronics, and creating smart biomedical. An elastomer is a type of polymer with viscoelasticity (this means it has both viscosity and elasticity), much like rubber.
Most elastomers are made by a thermal curing process. Although this process allows for mass production it limits the types of designs and shapes of devices that can be made, and this places obstacles on the development of new consumer and medical devices. To overcome these limitations, scientists have used innovative 3D printing techniques, including ultraviolet curing. Ultraviolet curing is used to solidify liquid polymer resins to 3D objects via the application of patterned ultraviolet light.
By developing the process further to maximize ‘strechability’, based on a variant of the curing process, Singapore University of Technology and Design's (SUTD) Digital Manufacturing and Design (DManD) Centre scientists have fashioned an elastomer
that can be stretched by up to 1100 percent. This is five times the elongation at break of any commercially available elastomer.
The process is also much faster compared with conventional methods. In a trial a soft robotic gripper was printed within an hour; and overall the researchers are discussing bringing printing times down from days to hours for more sophisticated structures. The material also has good durability. Another test item produced was a 3D buckyball light switch. This was pressed 1000 times without any loss of functionality.
The development of the elastomer
is published in the Journal of Advanced Materials
. The research is titled "Highly Stretchable and UV Curable Elastomers for Digital Light Processing Based 3D Printing."