Additive manufacturing techniques are used to create three-dimensional structures with complex shapes and features from polymer and/or metal materials. For example, fused filament three-dimensional (3D) printing utilizes non-electroactive polymers, such as acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) and polylactic acid (PLA), to build structures and components in a layer-by-layer fashion for a wide variety of applications. Presented here is a summary of recent work on a fused filament 3D-printing technique to create 3D ionic polymer-metal composite (IPMC) structures for applications in soft robotics. The 3D printing technique overcomes some of the limitations of existing manufacturing processes for creating IPMCs, such as limited shapes and sizes and time-consuming manufacturing steps. In the process described, first a precursor material (non-acid Nafion precursor resin) is extruded into a thermoplastic filament for 3D printing. Then, a custom-designed 3D printer is described that utilizes the precursor filament to manufacture custom-shaped structures. Finally, the 3D-printed samples are functionalized by hydrolyzing them in an aqueous solution of potassium hydroxide and dimethyl sulfoxide, followed by application of platinum electrodes. Presented are example 3D-printed single and multi-degree-of-freedom IPMC actuators and characterization results, as well as example soft-robotic devices to demonstrate the potential of this process.
James D. Carrico and Kam K. Leang, "Fused filament 3D printing of ionic polymer-metal composites for soft robotics," Proc. SPIE 10163, Electroactive Polymer Actuators and Devices (EAPAD) 2017, 101630I (Presented at SPIE Smart Structures and Materials + Nondestructive Evaluation and Health Monitoring: March 27, 2017; Published: 17 April 2017); https://doi.org/10.1117/12.2259782.
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