This 3D printed Sci-Fi 'Smart Fabric' Stiffens On-Demand

A team of researchers at Caltech (along with scientists from NTU Singapore) has developed a new kind of sci-fi smart fabric that is soft and flexible but can be made rigid on-demand. This chain mail-looking material was made using 3D printing, from a nylon polymer and it is made up of hollow octahedrons. It was found that this 3D printed material becomes 25 times more rigid and can hold over 50 times its weight while it’s in a rigid state when sealed in a vacuum.

The new smart fabric has serious potential for various applications in multiple industries. It can be used in protective gear made for athletes to avoid head trauma and other injuries, also it can be used for creating exoskeletons to help people walk and handle objects with less impact on the body.

NASA, also suggested that this could also be used to provide support while an injury heals. Though this new 3D printed material or smart fabric seems to be quite a huge leap in the fabrics industry but trying it as a Batman’s cape for gliding through the air would turn out to be fatal.

3D-printed material
The 3D-printed chain-mail-like material, Credit: Nanyang Technological University

Chiara Daraio, professor of mechanical engineering at Caltech and also the author of the study on the material published in Nature earlier, said in a statement,

“We wanted to make materials that can change stiffness on command. We’d like to create a fabric that goes from soft and foldable to rigid and load-bearing in a controllable way.”

In the near future, the research team aims to improve the performance of the material they have created and investigate other methods of stiffening the fabric. Currently, stiffening is achieved by vacuum sealing the 3D printed material.

Nevertheless, researchers want to determine if they can stiffen the material using magnetism, electricity, or temperature changes in further research.

The study author Assistant Professor Wang Yifan said,


“Inspired by ancient chain mail armor, we used plastic hollow particles that are interlocked to enhance our tunable fabrics’ stiffness. To further increase the material’s stiffness and strength, we are now working on fabrics made from various metals including aluminum, which could be used for large-scale industrial applications requiring higher load capacity, such as bridges or buildings.”

As of now, only this much is known about this sci-fi smart fabric which can be seen for reference in the video below.

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