Can you print 3D from latex? As it turns out, the material that has not been associated with 3D printing so far can be successfully used for additive production. The method proposed by scientists from the State University of Virginia allows the production of complex geometric shapes from latex rubber. Ready components can be successfully used as shock absorbers or find application in the production of soft robots.
Until now, 3D printing of technical latex elements was not possible. Although the examples described in the scientific literature and publications presented the technical assumptions of the method, the mechanical properties left much to be desired.
An interdisciplinary team from the State University of Virginia combined their knowledge of chemistry and mechanical engineering, giving the material such properties that it was possible to print spatially from it. The modification of its chemical properties proved to be a challenge that managed to cope with the multidisciplinary knowledge of team members.
As a 3D printing method, scientists chose UV light curing technology. To make this possible, the liquid material had to be enriched with photoinitiators, which would allow for the implementation of the photopolymerization process. In addition, a stabilizing agent has been added to the resin, allowing high-resolution 3D printing.
Then, they started building their own 3D printer, which would enable the implementation of the process of producing latex elements. Scientists needed a device that would combine a large workspace and high quality additive manufacturing. The design developed by them applies a single, liquid (100 microns) layer of plastic, which is selectively cured with UV light, until the entire element is created. The patent for the device was filed in 2017.
The film from the 3D printing process can be viewed at this address.
As the project coordinator says, initially 3D latex printing seemed to him unreachable. Their progress helped push the boundaries of 3D printing.