Team develops technique using humidity to make 3D printing faster, more efficient

April 10, 2023

Jian Lin, Jacob Search, Alireza Mahjoubnia

A Mizzou Engineering team has devised a new technique that uses humidity to make 3D printing faster and more efficient when fabricating small, complex structures.

Jian Lin, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and his team are using a process to dissolve a polymer in an organic solvent. When the solution is exposed to humidity, the solvent rapidly diffuses and dissolves, leading to a quick solidification of the polymer. Because of the speed, the structure can stand on its own without the need to print supporting pieces.

“The problem with other methods is that they are very slow,” said Jacob Search, who earned a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering at Mizzou and is now pursuing a PhD at Duke University. “And quicker methods are not able to achieve more complex structures. This method balances that. It speeds up the printing speed while still maintaining the complexity.”

The authors outlined the process in the journal Additive Manufacturing.

While the technique has the potential to be used with different types of ink to quickly print a variety of multifunctional 3D structures, Search and collaborator Alireza Mahjoubnia say it’s a good fit for biomedical applications.

“The polymer we’re using in this study is already FDA approved, so the more we work on processing this material, the closer we are to clinical trial,” said Mahjoubnia, a PhD student in mechanical engineering.

Specifically, the method could be used to quickly print customized structures that can induce specific cell behavior and promote tissue regeneration.

“There’s more work to be done before we attach cells, but theoretically, you can print the structure using our method and do some post-processing to add the biological characteristics you want,” Search said.

Other authors include Andy Chen, a student at North Oconee High School in Georgia; Heng Deng, a former Ph.D. graduate in mechanical and aerospace engineering; Aik Jong Tan, a graduate student in mechanical and aerospace engineering; and Shi-you Chen, professor of surgery in the MU School of Medicine. The work was funded by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, ERDC [grant number W912HZ-21-2-0050], NASA Goddard Space Flight Center [grant number 80NSSC20M0100] for the financial support, and USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (2020-67030-31336).

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