Liquid Crystal Elastomers (LCE) combine the properties of liquid crystals (characteristic orientational order that can self-organize) with polymer networks (rubbery elasticity). This combination enables LCEs to exhibit a reversible shape memory effect that can be triggered by external stimuli, which makes the material promising for artificial muscles and wearable devices.
With the development of innovative inks and advanced manufacturing, LLNL researchers realized another potential application is using the material for printing of complex 3D casting molds. The printed molds are programmed to be a specific shape and then self-release upon curing of the material by a change in temperature, light or electric field.
LLNL researchers developed novel workflows where material is first cast into the LCE molds at room temperature. Upon curing, the mold is induced to expand or contract (change shape) by external stimuli (light, heat, solvent) to self-release. A reduction to practice example used silica-loaded silicone ink casted into a LCE cylinder mold. It was cured at 100°C, and self-released from the LCE mold upon removal from the oven into an environment at ambient temperature.
Image Caption: Schematic process flow for using and self-releasing an LCE model from cast material
• Value Proposition: Reduced manufacturing costs for cast materials that require minimal handling.
• Ideal for optics and manufacturing with low dexterity robotics
• Reversible and repeatable 3D-to-3D shape change
• Adaptive optics
• Tunable stiffness architectures
• Cellular fluidics
• Stimuli-responsive transducer
Current stage of technology development: TRL 3
LLNL has filed for patent protection on this invention