In the recently published ‘3D printed shape-programmable magneto-active soft matter for biomimetic applications,’ researchers from China explore the development of a high-performance material that transforms quickly from one shape to another as required for specific applications.
Materials scientists continue to be inspired by nature in many of their studies and consequent innovations today, and as 3D printing morphs into 4D printing with shapes that deform and then return to their original shape, digital fabrication itself continues to expand. Most of these materials and consequent deformation are driven by external forces in the environment such as temperature or moisture and can be used as complex geometries for applications like medicine, robotics, and more.
In this study, the authors examine the use of magnetic field control and magneto-active soft materials (MASMs) as they offer the potential for both soft sensors and actuators. Previous research has been performed with 3D magnetic printing, resulting in the fabrication of both anisotropic composites coupled with magnets.
With a new ‘shape-programming strategy,’ the goal for this study was to create stable shapes that transform quickly and are also programmable. The research team put the benefits of 3D printing to work:
“With the advantages of 3D printing, this manufacturing approach enables the magnetic structural elements with any shape, distribution, and orientation to generate anisotropic magnetization profiles. This method allows us to program magnetic moment in the soft matrix, enabling the desired actuation capabilities of the MASMs. The deformation property of shape programmable MASMs have been studied synthetically, and the related physical mechanism has been proposed.
“With these excellent capabilities, various biomimetic structures (inchworm, manta ray, and soft gripper) can be easily fabricated with walking, swimming and snatching functions under the uniform magnetic field (UMF). This proposed approach can make up for the shortcomings of the existing programming methods and opens new avenues to fully capitalize the potential of MASMs.”
PLA was mixed at a 6:1 volume ratio with Carbonyl iron particles (CIPs), blended mechanically for 30 minutes, and then added to the extruder of an FDM 3D printer.
“Here, it should be noted that printing magnetic structural elements is just one of the methods for the design of magnetic moment. Adjusting the magnetic moment can also depend on the particle distribution and magnetic domain,” explained the researchers.
Upon 3D printing, however, the magnetic structures were comprised of isotropic ferromagnetic properties due to the uniform dispersion of PLA particles. The team 3D printed samples with a variety of different oriented magnetic structural elements, confirming that these differences did affect mechanical properties of the MASMs.
Ultimately, the researchers were able to create a range of biomimetic structures inspired by nature such as the inchworm, manta ray, and a soft gripping device. Fabricated samples were also inspired by animals such as snakes and mollusks, and the MASM forms were capable of mimicking their structures and movements; however, magnetization was dependent on distribution and orientation of adjacent magnetic structural elements—meaning that overall magnetics must be considered for required efficiency.
The sample structures, ‘successfully fabricated,’ exhibited potential for functionality in exercises such as locomotion, swimming, and grabbing. They also displayed the desired mechanical properties with stability and accuracy in shape-changing—ensuring performance required for the future design of actuators and soft robotic innovations.
Upon factoring in the low density, ‘excellent flexibility,’ and suitable properties for actuation, the team continued to move forward with their project, making soft robots and actuators:
- The inchworm design translated into a soft robot able to ‘walk’ on a serration plate created by the researchers.
- The manta ray design inspired another soft robot with ‘muscles and wingspan’ made of both MASMs and SR. It was even able to swim underwater.
- The soft gripper functioned beyond that of conventional similar devices, with grab-and-release manipulated by magnetic actuation.
“This work simply uses uniform magnetic field (UMF) as the actuation only, but more complex actuation behaviors can also be generated by using the gradient magnetic field. The proposed approach opens new avenues to fully capitalize the potential of MASMs, allowing researchers to develop a wide range of soft actuators that are critical in soft robotics, medical care, and bionics applications,” concluded the authors upon completing their study.
Scientists have always had a history of being inspired by nature, and this has played a fascinating role in the progression of 3D printing as biomimetics have been the force behind new prosthetics, innovative architectural structures, drone technology, and more.
What do you think of this news? Let us know your thoughts! Join the discussion of this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com.[Source / Images: ‘3D printed shape-programmable magneto-active soft matter for biomimetic applications’]
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