Bio-inspiration: 3D printer for University Research

Hobs 3D supply 3D printer for University Research into the hardest biological materials.

Forget spiders’ webs; a new study has found that the tiny teeth of limpets are the strongest biological material yet discovered, and could be reproduced in high-performance engineering, such as racing cars and in boat hulls.

According to researchers from the University of Portsmouth, the teeth of the common limpet, found in seas surrounding Britain “need to be mechanically robust and avoid catastrophic failure when rasping over rock surfaces during feeding.”

Professor Asa Barber, who led the study, found that the teeth contain a hard mineral known as goethite, which forms in the limpet as it grows.  “Generally a big structure has lots of flaws and can break more easily than a smaller structure, which has fewer flaws and is stronger. The problem is that most structures have to be fairly big so they’re weaker than we would like. Limpet teeth break this rule as their strength is the same no matter what the size.”

“Limpet tooth strength is comparable to the fibres used in bullet-proof vests and the carbon fibres commonly used in composites for aerospace structures and Formula 1 cars,” said Professor Barber. “The limpet has been able to make something in a biological process that performs as well as man-made materials that are not recyclable and use harmful chemicals.”

Hobs 3D have been working with Professor Barber and have specified a Projet 5500 3D printer to help in this research. This particular 3D printer uses different materials to print structures from flexible (rubber) to solids. “The next stage is 3D printing – trying to print out the structures that we observe in the natural world,” said Professor Barber. This will enable research into creating materials which mimic the properties of the Limpets teeth and other natural structures; this is known as ‘bioinspiration’.

As well as completing training and offering on-going support, Hobs 3D have also helped introduce Professor Barbour to 3D printing industry experts and high-performance engineers to test the resulting materials and explore potential industrial applications.  Professor Barbour adds “Working in collaboration with Hobs 3D has helped us bring academia and the commercial sector closer together. We’re all benefiting from each other’s expertise and it has given us access to a wealth of specialist knowledge. Long may it continue.”

Common Limpet

Images Copyright University of Portsmouth.

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