Rapid Prototyping: 3D Printed Material Proves to be Less Dense and Stronger than Steel


Scientists and researchers are always up for new innovations, new ways of finding the best out of all existing materials. From chemical reactions to alloys to numerous other tests, alloys to make something stronger, or creating hybrids to create something customized of need. One way or another science has helped overcome problems that come our way, and researchers have always aided in that process. Combining rapid prototyping with the creation of alloys and graphene materials has recently yielded unexpected results.
Just like that, in order to come up with the strongest material known to man, but at the same time something that is not as dense; a research team from MIT has used a multi-material 3D printer to create such an object. In a process of compressing and fusing graphene flakes, these researchers came up with a substance that had 5 percent the density of steel but was 10 times stronger at the same time.
While attempting to make such strong 3D structures using modern techniques, researchers are finding that the shape and the form that a structure takes are just as important in giving it some strength as much as the material used to make it. Now that we have 3D printers, the brightest minds of this generation are experimenting all they can with this rapid prototyping technology to come up with new structures, forms and they are only getting stronger every day.


Graphene is considered to be one of the strongest materials out there in a two-dimensional form, and a group of researchers from MIT are carrying out experiments with this material to figure out the secret to being able to use it elsewhere, and after much experimenting, they have found out why. These researchers carried out experiments where they compressed small flakes of graphene under great heat and pressure and eventually came out in a strong and stable structure that seems to resemble a coral. It was after their experiment that they had realized, it was the shape and form of the coral-like structure which gave it so much strength rather than the material itself.


Keeping this experiment in mind, these researchers have established that by mimicking the 3D form with other more affordable substances, namely plastic, they can make super strong structures resembling graphene at a much lower cost.
While researching these scientists found that when the graphene flakes were compressed into a stronger form they behaved somewhat like folded paper. Which means, it behaved in a manner where it was unfolded it became weak and could be easily destroyed. However, when it is rolled up in a tube its strength drastically increases. In a similar manner, the new compressed graphene turned out to be much stronger than before only because of the change in structure.


Once this relationship between structure and strength was made clear, scientists began using this technique for other materials and put them to the test to see how much each material could endure. After compressing the graphene against each other, and coming up with a material that is only 5% the density of steel, but 10 times stronger they started to analyze the geometric arrangement of it. After a lot of analyzing the researchers were able to recreate somewhat of the strong material using a 3D printer. Firstly they wanted to create a graphene structure using rapid prototyping that had low density but was stronger than helium to be used in balloons from scratch. However, this was not possible practically as the structure would collapse because of surrounding air pressure.
One of the most important discoveries here was actually the realization that the strong graphene structure could be mimicked by other materials as well and can be used to save money, resources or take advantage of the material at hand. According to the head of MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) Markus Buehler, one could use the real graphene structure or put to use any other material such as polymers or metals or anything else of choice as long as the geometry of the structure is maintained.



When a material such as a graphene is put under pressure and heat they start to form round-like shapes with holes in them. These shapes are essentially known as gyroids and are pretty difficult to mimic synthetically. But for this purpose the research team, used models of the structure made using rapid prototyping and enlarged them for experimenting purposes. Even though the models made with rapid prototyping were not as strong as the original compressed graphene, experts say that the polymer or metal templates could just be used as templates, whereas the graphene can be used to coat them by chemical vapors. Once it is coated, the inside can be physically or chemically removed to finally leave the case in gyroid form.


Ultimately, these discoveries, innovations, and realizations can have significance in multiple industries and situations. Such as concrete structures like buildings or bridges that can be created with similar porous geometry.



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