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The development of 3D printing is marching onward at an ever-faster rate, as more firms release tech in a bid to improve existing three-dimensional printing capabilities. Until now, 3D printers have been limited not by the technology, but by the availability of suitable materials which can be used to produce 3D creations.

But a new form of ink has emerged which could change the way 3D printers are used and expand the range of products and designs they can create. Developed at Northwestern University in the US, the new ink makes it possible to print 3D objects from stretchy graphene as opposed to the brittle materials thus far used in 3D printing.   The ink’s high graphene composition lends itself well to electrical and mechanical objects, where it has been already been widely used.

Developers believe the substance would be extremely successful in producing small, intricate 3D creations – making it the perfect material for mechanical components as well as the biomedical field.   Before the development of 75% graphene 3D printer ink, carbon fibre was the only material that came close to the sturdiness and flexibility of the new substance. Indeed, the ink’s designers are hailing the material as a breakthrough in 3D printer tech, suggesting that graphene ink could completely transform three-dimensional printing for scientists, technology developers and hobbyists alike.

The team of developers at Northwestern University were led by Ramille Shah, who commented that the secondary component of ink (the binder) is constructed from biodegradable, hyperelastic polyester, which not only makes the material extremely flexible – it also means it is suitable for biomedical experimentation.

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To create the graphene ink, Shah and colleagues embedded graphene flakes into a dissolved polymer, where they fuse to become a single filament when the mixture is made to flow. This technique ensures the graphene remains in a favourable state of elasticity, and makes it suitable for creating a range of multi-layered, highly intricate 3D designs.

The graphene’s stretchiness and suppleness is dictated by the quantity of binder added to the mix. The ability to change and modify the flexibility of the ink is crucial, as different products and designs require varying levels of stretchiness depending on their application. For example, developers believe the graphene substance could be used to safely mimic the exact bending and flexing of the human spine, which naturally requires a specific level of stretchiness when compared to say, an electrical component.

Despite being in the early stages of development, Shah and team have stated their new 3D printer ink is strong, sturdy and flexible enough to be used alongside existing human tissue, paving the way for a new generation of biodegradable medical implants.

To find out more about the developments at Northwestern University, click here. Alternatively, check out the rest of the Toner Giant blog for more of the latest printing news and technology developments. 

Image credits: Northwestern University

 

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