Most students will work with a plastic when making things with a 3D printer, but that is only scratching the surface of materials that can be used in these machines. This book takes a look at the different materials that can be used by 3D printers, what those materials can make, and the advantages and disadvantages for each.
3D printing: ‘the possibilities are endless’
2 December 2015 Last updated at 00:35 GMT
Printing in three dimensions is becoming more widespread, says Rafal Tomasiak, of Polish 3D printing firm Zortrax, but he has clear ideas of where we will – and won’t – be using them.
“The future is the medical sector, which is using it more and more,” he says. But we won’t be seeing the machines in our homes any time soon, he adds. “The printing process is not as easy as the promotional films present, you need to be a specialist.”
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
Unlike most animals, seahorses have tails that are made of square prisms. Scientists are now looking to this small fish with horse-like head and curled tail dwelling in the deep seas for ideas that could lead to better robots and medical devices.
In a new study published in the journal Science, researchers explored the makeup of the seahorse tail and rendered its mechanics using 3D-printed prototypes. They wanted to determine whether the grasping ability and armored functions of the cross-sectional architecture of seahorse tail are better than cylindrical tails.
“Almost all animal tails have circular or oval cross-sections—but not the seahorse’s. We wondered why,” said study lead Michael Porter, an assistant professor in mechanical engineering at Clemson University, in a press release.
Porter had been working on square cross section catheter before trying to building a round one to enable inserting it to the veins. However, the square device worked better than the cylindrical one.
“The square one just felt better. It felt like it basically fit together better and just performed more robustly, whereas the round one just didn’t really hold its shape well and just didn’t seem to fit together as well,” said Porter.
“Michael decided to use engineering and technology to explain biological features,” said study co-author Joanna McKittrick, materials science and engineering professor at the University of California.
The researchers hope to use biology as a source of inspiration for engineering, and engineering as a tool to explore biology.
“New technologies, like 3D-printing, allow us to mimic biological designs, but also build hypothetical models of designs not found in nature,” said Porter “We can then test them against each other to find inspiration for new engineering applications and also explain why biological systems may have evolved.”
Because the square plates make it stiffer, the researchers found that seahorse tail makes for a sturdier armor, and able to resist more strain. In fact, the square model outperformed the cylindrical one in all crushing tests.
Made up of about 36 square-like segments composed of four L-shaped corner plates, seahorse tails easily squeezed inward while maintaining its shape. The plates are able to glide or pivot similar to ball-and-socket joints, making it easier to slide past one another.
The seahorse tail model could also grasp and grip more firmly because its square segments create more contact points with the surface of the object compared to the rounded tail. Although the range of its movement is limited due to the plates interfering with one another, the seahorse tail returned to its original shape using less energy compared to the cylindrical model.
“Understanding the role of mechanics in these prototypes may help engineers to develop future seahorse-inspired technologies that mimic the prehensile and armored functions of the natural appendage for a variety of applications in robotics, defense systems, or biomedicine” the authors wrote.
Study co-author and UC engineering professor Marc Meyers noted, “The possibilities are many.”