Materials like solid gels and porous foams are used for padding and cushioning, but each has its own advantages and limitations.
A team of engineers and scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) has found a way to design and fabricate, at the microscale, new cushioning materials with a broad range of programmable properties and behaviors that exceed the limitations of the material's composition, through additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing.
Livermore researchers, led by engineer Eric Duoss and scientist Tom Wilson, focused on creating a micro-architected cushion using a silicone-based ink that cures to form a rubber-like material after printing. During the printing process, the ink is deposited as a series of horizontally aligned filaments (which can be fine as a human hair) in a single layer. The second layer of filaments is then placed in the vertical direction. This process repeats itself until the desired height and pore structure is reached.
The researchers envision using their novel energy-absorbing materials in many applications, including shoe and helmet inserts, protective materials for sensitive instrumentation, and in aerospace applications to combat the effects of temperature fluctuations and vibration.
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