We talk a lot about 3D printing, and how more and more materials are being added to an ever-expanding menu of options for creating new products. But we don’t usually cover what happens to these products after they’re produced. Are these new materials sustainable? Are they durable? Or are we just sending more one-and-done products to the dumpster?
Researchers from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering have reportedly come up with a way to solve the problem of unfixable rubber materials — like the split sole of a shoe, for example — that are often discarded rather than fixed. But what if these materials could fix themselves?
No, it’s not sci-fi; it’s actually 3D printed. According to Science Daily, Viterbi Assistant Professor Qiming Wang is working with a group of students and another professor from the University of Connecticut to produce a material that can reportedly be manufactured quickly and repair itself if it becomes torn. The publication is calling it a potential “game-changer” for applications and industries like shoes, tires, soft robotics, and the like.
The material is produced using light to solidify a liquid resin into its desired shape. Once an oxidizer is added, the real magic happens: After finding the right process mix, the scientists produced a material that can be made quickly and self-heal. According to the report, “in just five seconds, they can print a 17.5-millimeter square, completing whole objects in around 20 minutes that can repair themselves in just a few hours.”
The team recently published their study in a scientific journal. The experiment used various products, including “a shoe pad, a soft robot, a multiphase composite, and an electronic sensor.” After being cut in half, the items were able to repair themselves within a mere two hours.
The researchers, whose efforts were funded by the National Science Foundation and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research Young Investigator Program, are working to incorporate other materials into the self-healing mix, and are reportedly experimenting now with rigid, hard plastics that they believe could be used for vehicle parts.