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Rutgers Engineers Create New Technique for Painting 3D-Printed Objects

A hydrogel lattice without (left) and with (right) coating. Photo courtesy of Jonathan P. Singer/Rutgers University-New Brunswick.

Engineers at Rutgers University (New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA) have developed a new method of painting complex 3D objects that may provide opportunities for creating “smart skins.” According to the university, this coating technique can potentially be used on a variety of 3D-printed objects, thereby saving manufacturers time and money by using fewer materials.

As opposed to conventional sprays and brushes that are unable to paint certain parts of a 3D-printed object, the technique employed by the Rutgers team can coat any exposed surface and foster rapid prototyping. “Our technique is a more efficient way to coat not only conventional objects, but even hydrogel soft robots, and our coatings are robust enough to survive complete immersion in water and repeated swelling and deswelling by humidity,” says Jonathan P. Singer, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering in Rutgers School of Engineering.

The Rutgers engineering team discovered that electrospray deposition, a technique traditionally used in analytical chemistry, had new applications. Electrospray deposition creates a fine spray of droplets by applying a voltage to fluid flowing through a nozzle. With this approach, the team was able to build an accessory for 3D printers that will, for the first time, allow automated coating of printed parts with functional, protective, or aesthetic layers of paint.

Among the advantages this technique provides is thinner, better targeted paint application and the use of cutting-edge materials such as nanoparticles and bioactive ingredients. The engineering team plans on further developing their technique by creating surfaces that can change their properties or trigger chemical reactions to create paints that can sense and report on outside stimuli. They hope to commercialize their technique that would serve as a complement to 3D printing and would “create a new paradigm of rapid coating,” says the university.

The findings by the Rutgers engineering team were published in the journal ACS Applied Mechanics and Interfaces.

Source: Rutgers University, www.rutgers.edu.