3D printing has come a long way since its inception, and the advancements in materials and techniques continue to push the boundaries of what is possible. Originally limited to fast-curing plastics, 3D printing can now accommodate slow-curing polymers, offering a range of benefits including improved elasticity, durability, and robustness. This progress is thanks to a pioneering technology developed by researchers at ETH Zurich and a US start-up, which enables the use of enhanced polymers in 3D printing.
In the past, scientists were restricted to using fast-curing polyacrylates for 3D printing, which presented limitations in terms of elasticity and bending capabilities. However, with the introduction of slow-curing thiolene polymers, intricate and resilient robots can now be printed in one go using a variety of premium materials. The elastic properties of thiolene polymers allow for the creation of complex robotic structures with bones, ligaments, and tendons that are capable of returning to their original state quickly after bending.
ETH Zurich robotics professor Robert Katzschmann emphasizes the advantages of robots made from soft materials, such as this 3D printed robotic hand. These soft robots are less likely to cause injury when interacting with humans and are better suited for handling fragile goods. The stiffness of thiolene polymers can also be finely tuned to meet the requirements of soft robots, making them an ideal material choice for the elastic ligaments of the robotic hand.
To further enhance the capabilities of 3D printing, scientists have incorporated a 3D laser scanning technique that inspects each printed layer for surface imperfections. This real-time feedback mechanism allows for precise adjustments to the amount of material to be printed in order to compensate for any irregularities. Instead of smoothing out uneven layers, the new technology takes into account these imperfections during the printing process, resulting in more accurate and intricate structures.
The possibilities of 3D printing are expanding as a result of these advancements in both materials and techniques. Scientists can now explore more sophisticated designs and applications, pushing the boundaries of what can be achieved with this revolutionary technology.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Q: What is 3D printing?
A: 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is a process that creates three-dimensional objects by layering materials based on a digital design.
Q: How has 3D printing evolved over time?
A: Initially limited to fast-curing plastics, 3D printing can now accommodate slow-curing polymers, offering improved elasticity, durability, and robustness.
Q: What are the benefits of using slow-curing polymers in 3D printing?
A: Slow-curing polymers, such as thiolene polymers, have excellent elastic properties and can quickly return to their original state after bending. They are ideal for creating complex structures, including robotic hands with bones, ligaments, and tendons.
Q: What advantages do soft robots offer compared to traditional metal robots?
A: Soft robots, made from materials like thiolene polymers, are less likely to cause injury when working with humans and are better suited for handling fragile goods due to their soft and flexible nature.
Q: How does the 3D laser scanning technique improve 3D printing?
A: The 3D laser scanning technique allows for real-time inspection of each printed layer, identifying surface imperfections. This feedback mechanism enables precise adjustments to the amount of material to be printed, resulting in more accurate and intricate structures.