Stimuli-Responsive Materials in Additive Manufacturing

Additive manufacturing (AM) technologies are expanding the boundaries of materials science and providing an exciting forum for interdisciplinary research. The ability to fabricate arbitrarily complex objects has made AM technologies indispensable in personalized healthcare, soft electronics, and renewable energy. At the intersection of AM technologies and materials chemistry are stimuli-responsive polymers, which change their chemical and physical properties in response to specific environmental cues. The responsiveness of these “smart” polymers makes them suitable for AM and provides functionality to the additively manufactured objects. Furthermore, the type and degree of stimulus response of smart polymers can be regulated through precise synthetic design or via incorporation of additives. Herein, we review recently reported stimuli-responsive polymers used in AM, with a focus on the design and chemistry of the polymers. The materials are broadly classified by type of printing, and more specifically classified by type of stimulus response. Finally, we briefly consider existing challenges that stimuli-responsive materials in AM can address in the future.

Multimaterial Actinic Spatial Control 3D and 4D Printing

Production of objects with varied mechanical properties is challenging for current manufacturing methods. Additive manufacturing could make these multimaterial objects possible, but methods able to achieve multimaterial control along all three axes of printing are limited. Here we report a multi-wavelength method of vat photopolymerization that provides chemoselective wavelength-control over material composition utilizing multimaterial actinic spatial control (MASC) during additive manufacturing. The multicomponent photoresins include acrylate- and epoxide-based monomers with corresponding radical and cationic initiators. Under long wavelength (visible) irradiation, preferential curing of acrylate components is observed. Under short wavelength (UV) irradiation, a combination of acrylate and epoxide components are incorporated. This enables production of multimaterial parts containing stiff epoxide networks contrasted against soft hydrogels and organogels. Variation in MASC formulation drastically changes the mechanical properties of printed samples. Samples printed using different MASC formulations have spatially-controlled chemical heterogeneity, mechanical anisotropy, and spatially-controlled swelling that facilitates 4D printing.

The Intrinsic Mechanochemical Reactivity of Vinyl-Addition Polynorbornene

Herein we report the discovery of the intrinsic mechanochemical reactivity of vinyl-addition polynorbornene (VA-PNB), which has strained bicyclic ring repeat units along the polymer backbone. VA-PNBs with three different side chains were found to undergo ring-opening olefination upon sonication in dilute solutions. The sonicated polymers exhibited spectroscopic signatures consistent with conversion of the bicyclic norbornane repeat units to the ring-open isomer typical of polynorbornene made by ring-opening metathesis polymerization (ROMP-PNB). Thermal analysis and evaluation of chain scission kinetics suggest that sonication of VA-PNB results in chain segments containing a statistical mixture of vinyl-added and ROMP-type repeat units.

Integration of Metal-Free Ring-Opening Metathesis Polymerization and Organocatalyzed Ring-Opening Polymerization through a Bifunctional Initiator

We have investigated the use of metal-free ring-opening metathesis polymerization (MF-ROMP) in combination with organocatalyzed ring-opening polymerization (o-ROP) to produce diblock copolymers with highly disparate block compositions via exclusively metal-free methods. Use of a bifunctional initiator bearing a vinyl ether as organic initiator for MF-ROMP and an alcohol for initiation of o-ROP allowed for investigation of three synthetic approaches: 1) sequential polymerization with isolation of the intermediate macroinitiators, 2) simultaneous bidirectional polymerizations, and 3) “one-pot” sequential monomer addition. Macroinitiators formed by first conducting o-ROP were successfully used in subsequent MF-ROMP to prepare diblock copolymers. Simultaneous MF-ROMP and o-ROP was thwarted by incompatible cross-combinations of catalysts and monomers. Finally, a straightforward “one-pot” synthesis of block copolymers, using o-ROP followed by MF-ROMP, was realized by sequential addition of each monomer-catalyst combination.

Additive Manufacturing with Stimuli-Responsive Materials

Additive manufacturing, commonly referred to as 3D printing (3DP), has ushered in a new era of advanced manufacturing that is seemingly limited only by imagination. In actuality, the fullest potentials of 3DP can only be realized through innovative breakthroughs in printing technologies and build materials. Whereas equipment for 3DP has experienced considerable development, molecular-scale programming of function, adaptivity, and responsiveness in 3DP is burgeoning. This review aims to summarize the state-of-the-art in stimuli-responsive materials that are being explored in 3DP. First, we discuss stimuli-responsiveness as it is used to enable 3DP. This highlights the diverse ways in which molecular structure and reactivity dictate energy transduction that in turn enables 3D processability. Second, we summarize efforts that have demonstrated the use of 3DP to create materials, devices, and systems that are in their final stage stimuli-responsive. This section encourages the artistic license of advanced manufacturing to be applied toward leveraging, or enhancing, energy transduction to impart device function across multiple length scales.

Dual Polymerizations: Untapped Potential for Biomaterials

Block copolymers with unique architectures and those that can self‐assemble into supramolecular structures are used in medicine as biomaterial scaffolds and delivery vehicles for cells, therapeutics, and imaging agents. To date, much of the work relies on controlling polymer behavior by varying the monomer side chains to add functionality and tune hydrophobicity. Although varying the side chains is an efficient strategy to control polymer behavior, changing the polymer backbone can also be a powerful approach to modulate polymer self‐assembly, rigidity, reactivity, and biodegradability for biomedical applications. There are many developments in the syntheses of polymers with segmented backbones, but these developments are not widely adopted as strategies to address the unique constraints and requirements of polymers for biomedical applications. This review highlights dual polymerization strategies for the synthesis of backbone‐segmented block copolymers to facilitate their adoption for biomedical applications.

Optimized Heterogeneous Plates with Holes Using 3D Printing via Vat Photopolymerization

New advancements in 3D printing enable manufacturing a solid part with spatially controlled and varying material properties; this research seeks to establish techniques for finding optimal designs that use this new technology for the greatest structural benefit. We describe the use of a sequential quadratic programming based optimization solver to find an optimal distribution of material properties that minimize strain energy gradients, as calculated using finite element analysis. This design method is applied to the case of a flat thin plate with a hole, and has been proven to successfully reduce strain energy gradients and therefore stress concentrations. The optimally designed plates are 3D printed using a novel technology that uses vat polymerization technology. The computational model is validated with experiments. Enabling design engineers to customize material properties around geometric discontinuities will provide greater flexibility in reducing stress concentrations without modifying geometry or adding additional supports.

Additive Manufacturing with a Flex Activated Mechanophore for Nondestructive Assessment of Mechanochemical Reactivity in Complex Object Geometries

We used digital light processing additive manufacturing (DLP-AM) to produce mechanochemically responsive test specimens from custom photoresin formulations, wherein designer, flex activated mechanophores enable quantitative assessment of the total mechanophore activation in the specimen. The manufactured object geometries included an octet truss unit cell, a gyroid lattice, and an “8D cubic lattice”. The mechanophore activation in each test specimen was measured as a function of uniaxial compressive strain applied to the structure. Full shape recovery after compression was exhibited in all cases. These proof-of-concept results signify the potential to use flex activated mechanophore for nondestructive, quantitative volumetric assessment of mechanochemistry in test specimens with complex geometries. Additionally, the integration of DLP-AM with flex activated mechanophore build materials enabled the creation of customizable, three-dimensional mechanochemically responsive parts that exhibit small molecule release without undergoing irreversible deformation or fracture.

Facile Synthesis of Fluorine-Substituted Polylactides and Their Amphiphilic Block Copolymers

We report facile synthesis of 3-trifluoromethyl-6-methyl-1,4-dioxane-2,5-dione and ring opening polymerization of the fluoro-lactide monomer to prepare polylactides composed of trifluoromethyl and methyl pendent groups on each repeat unit (FPLA). Molecular weights of the prepared polymers correlated well with the initial molar ratio of monomer to initiator, and were found to range from 6.6 to 22.5 kDa as determined by 1H NMR spectroscopy. GPC analysis revealed an Mn of up to 16.5 kDa. 1H, 13C, and 19F NMR spectroscopy were consistent with the structures of the lactide monomer isomers, and 1H NMR analysis was consistent with polymer backbones of alternating trifluoromethyl- and methyl-substituted lactate constituents. Glass transition temperature (Tg) and decomposition temperature (Td) of the new FPLA were found to be 39 °C and 225 °C by DSC and TGA, respectively. Additionally, we prepared amphiphilic block copolymers of FPLA and polyethylene glycol (PEG). Specifically, FPLA-b-PEG diblocks and FPLA-PEG-FPLA triblocks were synthesized by using PEG monomethyl ether (mPEG) or PEG as alcohol initiators, respectively. We observed the formation of vesicles or worm-like micelles from the particles of FPLA-PEG-FPLA in dilute aqueous solution by transmission electron microscopy (TEM), suggesting potential applications for drug delivery.

Modular Elastomer Photoresins for Digital Light Processing Additive Manufacturing

A series of photoresins suitable for production of elastomeric objects via digital light processing additive manufacturing are reported. Notably, the printing procedure is readily accessible using only entry-level equipment under ambient conditions using visible light projection. The photoresin formulations were found to be modular in nature and straightforward adjustments to the resin components enabled access to a range of compositions and mechanical properties. Collectively, the series includes silicones, hydrogels, and hybrids thereof. Printed test specimens displayed maximum elongations of up to 472% under tensile load, tunable swelling behavior in water, and Shore A hardness values from 13.7 to 33.3. A combination of the resins was used to print a functional multi-material three-armed pneumatic gripper. These photoresins could be transformative to advanced prototyping applications such as simulated human tissues, stimuli-responsive materials, wearable devices, and soft robotics.