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A review of 3D printing processes and materials for soft robotics

Yee Ling Yap (Singapore Centre for 3D Printing, School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, Singapore)
Swee Leong Sing (Singapore Centre for 3D Printing, School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, Singapore)
Wai Yee Yeong (Singapore Centre for 3D Printing, School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, Singapore)

Rapid Prototyping Journal

ISSN: 1355-2546

Article publication date: 25 June 2020

Issue publication date: 20 August 2020

Abstract

Purpose

Soft robotics is currently a rapidly growing new field of robotics whereby the robots are fundamentally soft and elastically deformable. Fabrication of soft robots is currently challenging and highly time- and labor-intensive. Recent advancements in three-dimensional (3D) printing of soft materials and multi-materials have become the key to enable direct manufacturing of soft robots with sophisticated designs and functions. Hence, this paper aims to review the current 3D printing processes and materials for soft robotics applications, as well as the potentials of 3D printing technologies on 3D printed soft robotics.

Design/methodology/approach

The paper reviews the polymer 3D printing techniques and materials that have been used for the development of soft robotics. Current challenges to adopting 3D printing for soft robotics are also discussed. Next, the potentials of 3D printing technologies and the future outlooks of 3D printed soft robotics are presented.

Findings

This paper reviews five different 3D printing techniques and commonly used materials. The advantages and disadvantages of each technique for the soft robotic application are evaluated. The typical designs and geometries used by each technique are also summarized. There is an increasing trend of printing shape memory polymers, as well as multiple materials simultaneously using direct ink writing and material jetting techniques to produce robotics with varying stiffness values that range from intrinsically soft and highly compliant to rigid polymers. Although the recent work is done is still limited to experimentation and prototyping of 3D printed soft robotics, additive manufacturing could ultimately be used for the end-use and production of soft robotics.

Originality/value

The paper provides the current trend of how 3D printing techniques and materials are used particularly in the soft robotics application. The potentials of 3D printing technology on the soft robotic applications and the future outlooks of 3D printed soft robotics are also presented.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

Conflict of interest: The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Acknowledgement: This research is supported by the National Research Foundation, Prime Minister's Office, Singapore under its Medium-Sized Centre funding scheme.

Citation

Yap, Y.L., Sing, S.L. and Yeong, W.Y. (2020), "A review of 3D printing processes and materials for soft robotics", Rapid Prototyping Journal, Vol. 26 No. 8, pp. 1345-1361. https://doi.org/10.1108/RPJ-11-2019-0302

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

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