Typical 3D printing processes made of plastic turn liquids into solids. Now researchers have invented a way to incorporate materials directly into the process to create an object with solid and liquid elements.
The method, invented by chemists at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) in Germany, paves the way for applications such as incorporating active ingredients into pharmaceutical products or integrating luminous liquids into materials for damage monitoring, researchers said.
Typically, liquid components are added to a finished 3D printed product, and it is added after the product is manufactured, said Professor Wolfgang Binder of the MLU’s Institute of Chemistry, one of the directors of the work.
However, in order for 3D printing to develop further, more complex methods that combine several production steps must be integrated. “For this reason, we were looking for a way to incorporate liquids directly into the material during the printing process,” said Binder in a press release.
In order to achieve this goal, Binder, in collaboration with his colleague Professor Harald Rupp, combined common 3D printing processes with traditional printing methods such as those used in inkjet or laser printers. The new method adds liquid drop by drop in a specific location during the extrusion of the base material so that it can be “printed” directly into the product as it is being formed.
The team printed two sample objects to prove that their process worked. In one case, a liquid active ingredient was integrated into a biodegradable material. “We were able to prove that the active ingredient was not affected by the printing process and remained active,” Binder said in a press release.
This example shows how the pharmaceutical industry could use the process to deliver drugs containing biocompatible materials that will dissolve in the body when broken down.
In the second example, the researcher integrated a glowing liquid into a plastic material that – if damaged – leaks and shows where the damage occurred. This shows how the process can be used to create ways to indicate whether a product or part is damaged or open, according to Binder.
“You could imprint something like that on a small part of a product that is exposed to particularly high levels of stress.” In a press release, he said that it could be helpful to display the condition of parts in cars or airplanes that are exposed to high stress. It can also be used to package hazardous or sensitive materials to determine if they have been damaged in transit.
The researchers published an article about their work in the journal Advanced Materials Technologies.
In addition to the examples shown, the team envisions other uses for the process. One option is to print battery parts, which typically use combinations of liquid and solid materials that are usually made separately. To do this, the next step for researchers to further develop the process must be to move it to the industrial or commercial sector to meet the needs for wider printing.
“Larger quantities cannot be produced in the laboratory with our setup.” Binder explained.
Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has been writing on technology and culture for more than 20 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco, and New York City. In her free time, she enjoys surfing, traveling, playing music, doing yoga and cooking. She currently lives in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.