3D Printed Material Mimics Conch Shell Structure

  • 31 July 2017
  • Cas Proffitt

Researchers at MIT may have solved a long-standing issue with traditional carbon-fiber 3D printing methods, impact resistance. Their latest breakthrough models the structure of a conch shell, a criss-crossed latticework much like the structure of the aforementioned shell. They tested traditionally printed carbon-fiber against this new material under impact tests from a drop tower. The results were as much as an 85% increase in impact resistance.

It is not uncommon for science to look at nature for solutions to problems, after all they have solved them through generations of evolution. In this case, mimicking a shell turned out to be a very effective option.


How is this different than traditional 3D printing techniques?

The new 3D printing pattern developed by MIT uses an interwoven configuration in order to strengthen the overall structure of the 3D printed part. Traditional 3D printing methods tended toward printing in layers that were painted from the inside out or vice-versa. By mimicking the structure of conch shells, the MIT post-doc and graduate students have given rise to a more structurally sound way of printing parts.



How does this improve upon traditional methods?

The printing format developed by MIT researchers Grace Gu, Mahdi Takaffoli, and Markus Buehler, the McAfee Professor of Engineering provides as much as 85% stronger substances from 3D printed carbon-fiber simply by changing how the filament is organized. Such a significant increase in strength and impact resistance highlights the potential benefits of modelling some structures after nature.


Why is this significant?

When tested under a drop tower, the traditional carbon-fiber control plate shattered while the new shell designed plate merely received a surface dent. The difference in impact tolerance displays very well the level of improvement seen in this new material versus traditional methods. Increases in efficiency bordering on a 90% change represent significant leaps in production capability, be it strength of components, or commercial availability.


How can this method be applied in the real world?

This 3D printing method can be applied to producing parts in the real world that are composed of virtually any material. The strength gains of various materials may change based on composition and other factors, but it seems likely that this printing format will benefit the 3D printing industry on a global scale.



3D printing is an industry that strives constantly to reach new levels of durability and part strength, but this recent breakthrough by MIT researchers highlights an example of what happens when humanity bases its research around processes that nature has optimized for generations in the wild. 85% increased object strength for a 3D printed plate that was designed to mimic a conch shell compared to traditionally 3D printed carbon-fiber.



MIT is paving the way forward for significantly stronger 3D printer components and more reliance on rapid additive manufacturing as opposed to traditional manufacturing methods. One of the major allures to traditional manufacturing methods is strength of parts, but this breakthrough may challenge that advantage. 3D printing continues to become cheaper and more effective, strength is a natural advancement in that path.

About Cas Proffitt

Cas is a B2B Content Marketer and Brand Consultant who specializes in disruptive technology. She covers topics like artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, blockchain, and big data, to name a few. Cas is also co-owner of an esports organization and spends much of her time teaching gamers how to make a living doing what they love while bringing positivity to the gaming community.