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Airdate: Jun 04, 2014
Scientist: Chris Williams

3D Printing - Light and Strong

3D Printing - Light and Strong
Structural supports created by 3D printing have an incredible resistance to compressive force, which means they can support more weight while weighing less themselves!

3D Printing Light and Strong

3D Printers are like ink jet printers, but instead of laying down layers of ink, they print layer upon layer of polymer plastic, enabling us to easily create structures that are lightweight and strong. I'm Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet.

Williams: So I'm holding what we call a truss structure. Think about your overhangs in your interstate passes.

Chris Williams is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Virginia Tech. The truss he's describing was created with ease using a 3D printer. It would have taken much more time and effort to make it using conventional manufacturing techniques.

Williams: They really look like a bunch of three-dimensional triangles, all stacked together, and what's unique about those structures is that they have incredible resistance to compressive force, meaning I can stand on this and it won't fall apart, even though the material it's made out of is relatively weak, this polymer, this plastic that I'm holding.
We call these cellular materials or, in some cases, lattice structures.

Metzner: It's very beautiful, actually. It looks almost like alike an organic molecule of something. Now, would this even be stronger than the same thing if it were solid?

Williams: It's not exactly stronger, but the ratio of strength to mass is higher.

Metzner: So, a solid would be much heavier, a much more massive object. This is lighter and stronger.

Williams: Light and strong. And that has, of course, a lot of implications about any kind of vehicle that consumes gas. Right? So, the lower my mass of my vehicle, the more fuel efficient my vehicle will be, whether that's an airplane or a boat or a car. So, we're very interested in these types of structures that have the strength we need to resist impact, let's say in car crashes, but yet, I can get that kind of performance at a very low mass. So, I'm much fuel efficient as a result.

We'll hear more on 3D Printing in future programs. Pulse of the Planet is made possible in part by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.