Researchers at ETH Zurich develop bioinspired approach to 3D print recyclable liquid crystal polymers 3D printing is a promising technology in manufacturing industry, as objects with almost any shape and geometry can be designed. Researchers from ETH Zurich have developed a new method to 3D print recyclable liquid crystal polymers (LCP) that mimic the structure of natural materials. This new material not only outcompetes state-of-the-art printed polymers, but it also contends with the highest performance lightweight materials. As this approach uses a readily available polymer and a commercial desktop printer, its application can be extended to digitally design and manufacture strong and lightweight objects. Therefore, this technology is expected to be a game-changer for several structural and biomedical applications where weight or design are important drivers.

Additionally, it could unlock new potentials for making vehicles lighter and reduce their energy consumption as well as lead to a more sustainable manufacturing industry due the recyclability and design freedom offered by 3D printing of LCPs. 3D Printing makes it possible to produce unique complex parts quickly and at a low cost by sequentially depositing beads of a molten polymer. However, the available polymers are relatively weak and the printed parts show poor adhesion between the printed lines. Because of these limitations, 3D printing has not yet been successfully implemented in commercial products. Traditionally, the performance of polymers was increased by including strong and stiff continuous fibers such as glass or carbon fibers into the material. Although the resulting materials exhibit very high strength and stiffness, the energy- and labor-intensive fabrication process as well as the difficulty to recycle advanced composites represent major challenges today. 3D printing with continuous fibers can create parts with more complicated geometries with good mechanical properties but this approach requires expensive specialized equipment, is still restricted to […]