Engineers have developed a new 3D printing technique that allows printing of finely tuned flexible materials. By using a droplet-based, multiphase microfluidic system, the team was able to efficiently print materials with potential applications in soft robotics, tissue engineering, and wearable technology.
In traditional extrusion-based 3D printers, printing material is pushed through a nozzle and added to the structure repeatedly until the product is complete. While this is efficient and cost-effective, it makes it hard to print structures made of more than one material, and getting the right amount of softness can be challenging.
The team also showed that the droplet-based 3D printing technique can be used to produce flexible porous objects, and constructs with encapsulated polymer particles and metal droplets. In addition, structure flexibility can be easily tuned by changing the droplet size and flow rate. This gives researchers a wide range of options to truly design their structure and vary flexibility to fit their needs in a way that’s difficult with the conventional nozzle-based method.