Collaborative Project Focuses on Development of Advanced Materials for 3D Printing and 4D Printing

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Brightlands Materials Center is a research and development center focused on polymeric materials, or plastics. Plastic isn’t exactly what most people think of when imagining a sustainable future, but Brightlands is dedicated to promoting the responsible use of polymeric materials as it develops advanced applications. The center has three major areas of focus: Lightweight Automotive, Sustainable Buildings and Additive Manufacturing.

The last is the center of a new project that Brightlands is working on with several partners:

An example of a self-healing material [Image: University of Melbourne]

The four-year project will develop new polymeric materials for use in 3D printing and 4D printing. The goal is to create new products with improved and novel properties, and the materials will be based on the recently developed concepts of dynamic and reversible chemistry. Dynamic polymers such as vitrimers are a new class of materials with properties such as self-healing. Self-healing materials have been an area of interest in 3D printing lately, with potential applications ranging from electronic devices to cartilage replacements.

The project has identified three areas of focus for new polymeric materials. The first is selective laser sintering, or SLS, which involves the use of a laser to merge individual polymer particles. Like any other area of additive manufacturing, selective laser sintering has its issues – if the particles merge inefficiently, the final part will have poor mechanical properties. Brightlands Materials Center and its partners plan to develop new materials that will improve the merging process by reversibly reducing their viscosity and flowing more easily together. The materials will also have better bond formation across particle boundaries.

The second area of focus will be 4D printing. 4D printing involves the use of dynamic materials that respond to stimuli such as temperature change to shift their shapes, changing their forms and then reverting back to their original forms. The Brightlands project will combine additive manufacturing techniques such as 3D inkjet printing and stereolithography with responsive liquid crystalline polymer networks. Approaches will include the exploration of hierarchical structures like those found in nature.

[Image: Brightlands Materials Center]

Finally, the project will explore biofabrication. Biofabrication involves the 3D printing of living tissue. Several promising applications have already arisen from the development of bioprinting, such as living tissue for pharmaceutical testing, and the ultimate goal of most players in the bioprinting field is to develop 3D printed, working organs that can be transplanted into human patients. That goal is still some distance away, however, as biofabrication or bioprinting still has plenty of limitations.

“Currently, there are limitations because there is a lack of well‐defined and customizable synthetic systems that allow for precise control over material properties and the bioactivation of the material,” explains Brightlands Materials Center.

The project will develop reversible and mechanically instructive materials that will enable the exploration of the ability to influence stem cell behavior.

3D printing, no matter which technology is being used, is only as effective as its materials, and while materials have advanced greatly in recent years, there are still plenty of limitations. The project being undertaken by Brightlands and its partners will be another step forward in the development of materials that may allow for truly advanced 3D and 4D printing applications.

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