A microstructure is the small-scale porous structure of any material, which can typically be viewed only through magnification. The microstructure of a material, whether metal, polymer, or ceramic, can determine physical properties like weight distribution, flexibility, and strength. Microstructure optimization can occur naturally; human bones, for example, are made up of complex structures that make them both strong and lightweight. Analysis is used in a variety of industries and applications to help enhance important physical properties. This often involves simply changing the processing method for a specific material. With additive manufacturing, more researchers are discovering the potential benefits of generating custom microstructures to suit various needs.
At Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology, researchers discovered several ways that additive manufacturing could help simplify and improve their exploration of microstructure design. Gershon Elber, a geometric design scholar and computer science professor at Technion, had been interested in additive manufacturing for years.
“About ten years ago, we realized that the world is changing. The way we manufacture used to be subtractive, with a cutter removing material to achieve the desired shape,” Elber explained. “Now, for the first time, material can be heterogenous, making microstructure-based design easier.”
He had 3D printed microstructures in the past, but the design flow wasn’t convenient or time efficient. Until recently, a high-quality, multimaterial 3D printer with voxel level control wasn’t within the computer science department’s reach and budget. Options for representing microstructures were mostly limited to digital renders, which are useful but not always intuitive – especially for students.
That all changed when the Stratasys J55™ became available. It makes PolyJet Technology™ affordable and education-friendly, and it was perfect for researchers at Technion. Elber immediately saw the potential uses for the printer, and accompanying software like GrabCAD Voxel Print™.
“When we bought this printer, we looked at quite a few other companies,” he said. No one is even close to delivering what Stratasys offers – the PolyJet Technology is extremely unique.”
The multicolor, multimaterial capabilities of the J55 meant researchers could design and print microstructural models that would be impossible to create with traditional methods. Voxel Print allowed researchers to “map out” microelements with continuous color changes, and then apply these elements volumetrically to their models.