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3D Printed Smart Gels: Mimicking Cephalopods’ Color Changes

When Technology Copies Nature

New Jersey’s Rutgers University engineers have been experimenting with the idea that 3D printed objects as soft as what they call ‘smart gels’ can change their shapes upon light exposure, including their colors. They know that cephalopods like squids, cuttlefishes, and octopuses have sophisticated camouflage mechanisms that allow them to change skin color. The engineers presented artificial color-changing cells called chromatophores that can alter their color pattern in response to light. This exciting research can have different engineering applications – new military camouflage, soft robotics, and flexible displays.

3D Printed Light-responsive Materials

There’s evidence that a multi-material 3D printed light-responsive artificial chromatophore (LAC) can sense light and alter its color pattern at the individual unit level. This can replicate the cephalopods’ ability to use the thousands of color-changing chromatophore cells distributed on their soft skin to alter color and texture. The ability is used for their camouflage and communication, as well as survival from predators. The cephalopod-inspired LAC at Rutgers consists of three components: light-responsive muscle, stretchable sac, and rigid frame.

The scientists incorporated a light-sensing nanomaterial in the smart cell, turning it into an “artificial muscle” that contracts in response to light alterations. They also developed a 3D printable, stretchable acrylic acid hydrogel material that can reveal colors when the light changes. When combined with the light-sensing smart gel, the 3D printed stretchy material changes color, resulting in the camouflage effect. They also used the synthetic prepolymer cross-linker solution PEGDA 250 as a rigid frame material because of its relatively stable swelling behavior over the temperature change.

To manufacture the LAC, the team employed several steps to incorporate the three components – light-responsive muscle, stretchable sac, and rigid frame – including a custom-built multi-material projection micro stereolithography 3D printing technique. The study successfully proved that the LAC color tone could shift from black to white within two minutes of light from a digital projector. Also created were various binary color patterns from an array of three LACs.

What’s next for the scientists?

They will study adding different dyes to the stretchy hydrogel to change the current black-and-white binary color pattern to a more vibrant color expression. Next steps include improving the technology’s sensitivity, response time, scalability, packaging, and durability.


3D Printing with Various Colors

If you have an idea that can be 3D printed, contact us at 3D Composites and let us turn your images into solid realities.

3D Manufacturing Ceramic Components in Space Now Possible

Mission-Critical: Sustainable Living and Working in Space

Did you know that it is now possible to successfully manufacture ceramic components in space via 3D printing technology? The Ceramic Manufacturing Model (CMM) was accomplished by Redwire in December 2020 making possible a world-first feat. It manufactured a single-piece ceramic turbine bladed disk or blisk.

Redwire is the leading developer of mission-critical solutions for next-generation space infrastructure, to deliver end-to-end solutions to meet the needs of customers and advance the future of space exploration.

Why ceramics?

The CMM can produce ceramics in space resulting in products of high-strength, excellent heat resistant properties, lower residual stresses and enhanced mechanical performance in comparison to components manufactured on Earth. Combustion engines, nuclear cores, and turbines can have even the most minimal improvement to strength for significantly greater longevity of the component’s lifespan.

Redwire will use additive stereolithography (SLA) technology to 3D print, as the CMM is the first SLA printer ever to operate in orbit. 3D printing ceramics in space could be conducted at full-scale, and industries on Earth could reap the benefits of accessing materials with enhanced properties. If successful, it will boost demand for components 3D printed in space, as awareness and understanding of the benefits grow across industries.

What will Redwire do next?

Redwire is to run a thorough analysis of the components back on Earth. The results will prove the superior quality of the space-manufactured components and further boost interest in space-produced products. More tests are needed to establish how large-scale production could occur and explore the range of components that can be manufactured in orbit. Space-manufactured parts may eventually become commonplace across industries in the coming years.


3D Printing used in Dentistry

3D Printed Teeth Aligners

We know too well that orthodontic treatments are one of the more expensive modalities for teeth-straightening anywhere. The prohibitive costs can make most patients shy away from this option. San Francisco-based ArchForm, a developer of a teeth-aligner software may be changing the field of Multimedia and Design Software bringing affordable dental care to many. It is designed to import 3D scanned models, create, design, and purchase aligners or 3D print them in the office.

Making Aligners More Affordable

ArchForm is soon to open its own 3D printed aligner factory for orthodontists, competing against Invisalign, byte, Candid, and SmileDirectClub, at half the cost of these. The company’s manufactured aligners will be created using 3D printers and precision robotic engineering, capable of delivering aligners to orthodontist offices in 10 to 14 days.

Replacing the traditional metal braces of the 1970s, 3D printed invisible plastic aligners are the current alternative and the first choice for young and old patients alike. Orthodontics has delved extensively in 3D printing in the past 10 years. However, 3D printed alternatives tend to cost the same or more than metal braces, ranging from $3,000 to $8,000. On average, clear aligner costs run higher than metal braces (braces average $5,500 vs. Invisalign at $4,500).

Why is orthodontic treatment associated with high cost?

ArchForm says it’s the frequent doctor -performed chair time in adjusting brackets and wires, but Invisalign cut down on some of those costs. Yet there’s also the orthodontist´s profit margin controlled by the parent company, Align. Orthodontists currently pay about $1,700 per patient to Invisalign, and other clear aligner providers following the same regime. ArchForm brings down the cost to orthodontists at $542 to print a moderate-to-severe case in-office, and the company only charges $14 per patient.

How does the ArchForm aligner software work?

The 3D software develops a stepwise series of 30 to 40 designs meant to adjust a patient’s teeth based on scan data. The resulting models are then 3D printed and the actual aligners are made by thermoforming biocompatible plastic over the models. For offices with 3D printers, incorporating the software saves money and affords the specialists full control over treatment plans with automatic one-click features that can plan cases faster.

The ArchForm platform makes the product cheaper for both doctors and patients. Since 2016, it’s offering orthodontists the chance to 3D print their clear aligners in-office. The 3D software enabled specialists to customize treatments for thousands of patients. This new production facility combines the speed of 3D printing in-office aligners with the ease of outsourcing, making more accessible and affordable aligner therapy.


3D Printing The World’s First Unibody Bike

The New E-Bike: Extremely Strong and Very Light

If you’re passionate about biking, wouldn’t it be wonderful to drive a bike that’s as light as carbon, yet strong and tough in all terrain. That is soon to be a reality when AREVO, a Silicon Valley company dedicated to direct digital additive manufacturing of composite materials, and SUPERTRATA, a new California-based start-up, will 3D print the fully-unified carbon composite frames for its future e-bikes. AREVO has launched a range of carbon fiber and carbon nanotube materials, which were reportedly stronger than steel, paving the way into bike production. The company started 3D printing bike frames for California based Franco Bicycles, under the brand Emery Bikes, using Direct Energy Deposition (DED) 3D printing technology.

Custom 3D Printed Unibody Bike

Superstrata collaborated with AREVO to make the “world’s first” custom 3D printed unibody bike. Using AREVO’s continuous carbon fibre 3D printing technology, Superstrata built the frame in a single piece, not using glues or welding to hold its individual components together. It resulted in the bike frame being “extremely impact-resistant,” and using carbon fiber reinforced thermoplastics, it was lightweight, reportedly weighing less than two bottles of water or 1.3 kg.

AREVO’s 3D printing process allowed for significant customization on the bikes. Each frame can be individually crafted based on 18 precise measurements, ensuring a custom fit for riders from 4’7” to 7’4”. There are additional adjustable settings such as ride position and stiffness level, and over hundreds of thousand combinations. Two versions of the bicycle will be made available in later 2020, one can be fully charged in two hours, providing for up to a 55-mile range, while both bikes have integrated data and power wiring, enabling a variety of electronic upgrades. These include customization to have different riding styles (racing, street, gravel, or touring), wheel materials (metal or carbon fiber), or colorways (light or dark).
There are many other companies that have also 3D printed improved bike frames.

There’s Renishaw, a metal 3D printer manufacturer that worked with Lotus, British automotive firm, and bicycle engineering company Hope Technology, to design a new track bike for the Great Britain Cycling Team in 2019. Likewise, MX3D, the Amsterdam-based Robotic Additive Manufacturing (RAM) technology developer 3D printed from aluminum using Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing (WAAM) technology. There’s Quirk Cycles, a bespoke bicycle framebuilding company, also showcased a bike frame design at the Bespoked UK Handmade Bicycle Show in 2019, utilizing 3D metal printing, creating a stainless steel bolt and clamp system for the bike’s seatpost, resulting in a seamless metal design.


3D Printing

PETG Smoothing: For Better Looking and Shinier 3D Printed Products

Different Ways To Get The Perfect Finish

PETG is the most famous and used copolymer in the world of 3D printing. PETG stands for polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic enhanced with glycol (G). The addition of glycol makes the base PET significantly less brittle and easier to use.

One of the reasons why PETG is used in 3D printing instead of PET is because during overheating, PET becomes cloudy and fragile, which is unfeasible for use with a 3D printer FDM / FFF, a problem that does not happen to PETG because it contains glycol. It is also more durable thanks to its greater resistance to wear and corrosion to oxidizing agents, aspects that are combined with a high resistance to impacts.

PETG smoothing is a great way to reduce layer lines and deformities in a print. Smoothing results in a more visually-pleasing part. PETG is a very popular filament in the 3D printing community. It’s strong, flexible, and durable, making it a great filament choice for a variety of applications.

What are the common methods for smoothing 3D printed parts:

Sanding is one of the most common ways as it works well on all kinds of filament. It eliminates protrusions on a part, like support marks and zits, as well as reduce the appearance of layer lines. But it can be time-consuming if the part is very large or intricate. Starting with a low grit sandpaper, you can sand the object gradually in even and circular motions until you progress to use the larger grit sandpaper. Here, sanding with water helps to prevent clogging.

Another way is using a polishing compound to smooth PETC prints which enhances the effects of sanding and further reduces the layer lines. Polish may not stick well to the part unless it is adequately sanded. Liquid metal polishes work well on most brands of PETG. Use a soft cleaning cloth with a small amount of polish and rub it on the entire part until it is completely absorbed. Use another cloth and buff to a shine. The disadvantage is needing to use force to rub, which may not be suitable for more fragile parts.

Coating your PETG print is another great way to smooth the surface and to hide deformities. Like with PLA and ABS, epoxy resin is a popular substance for coating PETG prints. Depending on your choice of epoxy, the results can be satisfying. XTC-3D is quite a popular choice of epoxy for 3D printing. It flows smoothly over the part and won’t show brush strokes as easily. It also provides a glossy finish once it’s applied, so you might not need to continue sanding after applying the epoxy. However, you need to prepare the epoxy-resin mix, then carefully apply it to the print with a small brush.

Heat treatment is a viable option for smoothing PETG parts. You’ll need a heat gun with very precise temperature control to do this. Recommended temperature is normally around 250 °C or else it can be difficult to heat treat your part without ruining the print. The idea of heat treatment is to melt a very thin layer of the print’s surface material, removing the layer lines and fill in any undesirable gaps. The result should be a smooth, professional-looking part.