Amy discovered some good settings for getting 3D printed materials to stick to spandex. We can print flat, thin structures and have them control how the fabric bends and folds. We can also use the fabric’s tension to warp them into 3D shapes. This concept has a lot in common with our microscale pop-up structures. But why would you want to do this?
Since 3D printing time scales with volume, it can be much faster to produce a pop-up structure from a thin sheet than to 3D print it directly.
Integrating hard and soft materials is going to be key to making soft robots that contain electronic and mechanical structures, at least in the near future. For instance, even though robots are getting tentacles for arms, their brains are still made from brittle silicon-based computer chips.
Fabrics have diverse properties: they’re flexible and can contain fiber optics, conductive wires, tubes for fluids and gases, stretchy threads, shape memory wires…the list goes well beyond what we can get from 3D printed materials these days. Let’s combine these materials with the fast customization of 3D printing!
Here’s the pattern for the folding structure in the first video:
Here is how Amy prints on the flat plate, then peels off to reveal the pop-up 3D structures. These structures pucker slightly thanks to the tension in the fabric. The radius of curvature depends on the materials’ modulus (aka squishability) and thickness. In the background you can see Amy’s work on getting parts to detach from the surface.