Additive Manufacturing for Self-Healing Soft Robots

Soft Robot. 2020 Dec;7(6):711-723. doi: 10.1089/soro.2019.0081. Epub 2020 Mar 10.

Abstract

The field of self-healing soft robots was initiated a few years ago. A healing ability can be integrated in soft robots by manufacturing their soft membranes out of synthetic self-healing polymers, more specifically elastomeric Diels-Alder (DA) networks. As such they can recover completely from macroscopic damage, including scratches, cuts, and ruptures. Before this research, these robots were manufactured using a technique named "shaping-through-folding-and-self-healing." This technique requires extensive manual labor, is relatively slow, and does not allow for complex shapes. In this article, an additive manufacturing methodology, fused filament fabrication, is developed for the thermoreversible DA polymers, and the approach is validated on a soft robotic gripper. The reversibility of their network permits manufacturing these flexible self-healing polymers through reactive printing into the complex shapes required in soft robotics. The degree of freedom in the design of soft robotics that this new manufacturing technique offers is illustrated through the construction of adaptive DHAS gripper fingers, based on the design by FESTO. Being constructed out of self-healing soft flexible polymer, the fingers can recover entirely from large cuts, tears, and punctures. This is highlighted through various damage-heal cycles.

Keywords: Diels–Alder polymers; additive manufacturing; fused filament fabrication; self-healing materials; soft robot materials and manufacturing.