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John O | September 2018

New shape-changing, 3-D printed material stores energy like the grip of an eagle

By Josh Perry, Editor


Researchers at Queen Mary University of London (U.K.) and the University of Cambridge (U.K.) have developed a new auxetic material that can store energy by collapsing on itself to increase its density but also has smooth curves (rather than the typical sharp corners) to allow for repeated deformations.


The new material folds into itself to store energy, like an eagle’s claw gripping prey. (Wikimedia Commons)


According to a report from Queen Mary University, “The work lays the basis for designs of lightweight 3D supports, which also fold in specific ways and store energy which could be released on demand.”


Researchers believe that these “smart” materials can replace devices or robots because the functionality is built into the material design. Auxetic materials do not bulge when squeezed, but rather collapse in all directions, which stores the energy inside.


This new version of auxetic material can be shaped on demand through 3-D printing and can be designed into lattices with unique thermal expansion behavior. Its expansion properties can be varied to match a temperature gradient depending on its proximity to the heat source.


The research was recently published in Frontiers in Materials. The abstract stated:


“Stress distribution has led to the design of both tough and lightweight materials. Truss structures distribute stress well and are commonly used to design lightweight materials for applications experiencing low strains. In 3D lattices, however, few structures allow high elastic compression and tunable deformation.


“This is especially true for auxetic material designs, such as the prototypical re-entrant honeycomb with sharp corners, which are particularly susceptible to stress concentrations. There is a pressing need for lightweight lattice designs that are dynamic, as well as resistant to fatigue. Truss designs based on hinged structures exist in nature and delocalize stress rather than concentrating it in small areas.


“They have inspired us to develop s-hinge shaped elastic unit cell elements from which new classes of architected modular 2D and 3D lattices can be printed or assembled. These lattices feature locally tunable Poisson ratios (auxetic), large elastic deformations without fatigue, as well as mechanical switching between multistable states.


“We demonstrate 3D printed structures with stress delocalization that enables macroscopic 30% cyclable elastic strains, far exceeding those intrinsic to the materials that constitute them (6%). We also present a simple semi-analytical model of the deformations which is able to predict the mechanical properties of the structures within <5% error of experimental measurements from a few parameters such as dimensions and material properties.


“Using this model, we discovered and experimentally verified a critical angle of the s-hinge enabling bistable transformations between auxetic and normal materials. The dynamic modeling tools developed here could be used for complex 3D designs from any 3D printable material (metals, ceramics, and polymers). Locally tunable deformation and much higher elastic strains than the parent material would enable the next generation of compact, foldable and expandable structures.


“Mixing unit cells with different hinge angles, we designed gradient Poisson's ratio materials, as well as ones with multiple stable states where elastic energy can be stored in latching structures, offering prospects for multi-functional designs.


“Much like the energy efficient Venus flytrap, such structures can store elastic energy and release it on demand when appropriate stimuli are present.”

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