The fabrication of soft devices is evolving further, with the completion of recent research performed by US scientists. With the results published in “3D printable tough silicone double networks,” the authors explain how soft materials can be fabricated with micron resolution for complex systems like robotics, as well as new types of wearables.
Soft materials are produced industrially for many applications, with soft matter deployed for shock absorption, conformal requirements, energy recapture and robotics, where devices must be able to deform. Cross-linked materials like silicone rubbers (more formally known as poly(dimethylsiloxanes)) are popular for use due to strong mechanical properties, and temperature and chemical resistance. Most methods for using such materials with traditional techniques like injection molding are extremely limited though, and only suitable for creating basic geometries.
Previous research has shown success with liquid silicone rubber material for 3D printing ink, yielding more complex shapes. Challenges have been noted, however, in terms of structures being printed with overhangs, as well as those with a “high aspect ratio structure,” due to lack of stability like “slumping” before curing. Other experimental techniques have resulted in a lack of resolution, inferior mechanical properties, or slower printing speed.