3D PRINTED STRETCHY MESH
Engineers have designed 3-D-printed mesh materials whose flexibility and toughness they can tune to emulate and support softer tissues such as muscles and tendons. They can tailor the intricate structures in each mesh, and they envision the tough yet stretchy fabric-like material being used as personalized, wearable supports, including ankle or knee braces, and even implantable devices, such as hernia meshes, that better match to a person’s body.
As a demonstration, the team printed a flexible mesh for use in an ankle brace. They tailored the mesh’s structure to prevent the ankle from turning inward — a common cause of injury — while allowing the joint to move freely in other directions. The researchers also fabricated a knee brace design that could conform to the knee even as it bends. And, they produced a glove with a 3-D-printed mesh sewn into its top surface, which conforms to a wearer’s knuckles, providing resistance against involuntary clenching that can occur following a stroke.
This work is new in that it focuses on the mechanical properties and geometries required to support soft tissues.
The researchers printed a long strip of the mesh and tested its support on the ankles of several healthy volunteers. For each volunteer, the team adhered a strip along the length of the outside of the ankle, in an orientation that they predicted would support the ankle if it turned inward. They then put each volunteer’s ankle into an ankle stiffness measurement robot — named, logically, Anklebot — that was developed in Hogan’s lab. The Anklebot moved their ankle in 12 different directions, and then measured the force the ankle exerted with each movement, with the mesh and without it, to understand how the mesh affected the ankle’s stiffness in different directions.
In general, they found the mesh increased the ankle’s stiffness during inversion, while leaving it relatively unaffected as it moved in other directions.
“The beauty of this technique lies in its simplicity and versatility. Mesh can be made on a basic desktop 3-D printer, and the mechanics can be tailored to precisely match those of soft tissue"