Scientists from Canada’s Polytechnique Montréal have unveiled a type of additively manufactured (AM) fabric that could make plastic coverings almost unbreakable.
According to team lead and professor Frédérick Gosselin, these 3D printed polycarbonate webs are capable of absorbing up to 96% of impact energy and could pave way for more advanced bullet-proof glasses, protective smartphones screens and even durable aircraft engine coatings.
Gosselin, fellow professor Daniel Therriault and doctoral student Shibo Zou, drew inspiration from spider webs and their amazing impact-resistant properties to create their novel plastic webbing.
They in particular used polycarbonate to achieve their results, for when heated, the polymer becomes viscous like honey.
Gosselin’s team utilized a 3D printer to harness this property to ‘weave’ a series of fibers less than 2 mm thick, then repeated the process by printing a new series of fibers perpendicularly, moving fast, before the entire web solidified.
As it turns out, the magic lies in the process itself – and that’s where the final product acquires its key properties.
According to Gosselin, the molten plastic creates circles that ultimately form a series of loops as it is slowly extruded by the 3D printer to form a fiber:
“Once hardened, these loops turn into sacrificial links that give the fiber additional strength.”
“When impact occurs, those sacrificial links absorb energy and break to maintain the fiber’s overall integrity – similar to silk proteins.”
In an article published in 2015, Gosselin’s team demonstrated the principles behind the manufacturing of these fibers.
Lead author Shibo Zou has built on those findings to illustrate how such a web could behave when located inside a protective screen.
To demonstrate the same, he first embedded a series of webs in transparent resin plates and then conducted impact tests.
Results show that these plastic wafers dispersed up to 96% of impact energy without breaking. Instead of cracking, they deform in certain places, preserving the wafers’ overall integrity.
Image and content: Shibo Zou/Polytechnique Montréal via PhysOrg