Soft robotics is currently a rapidly growing new field of robotics whereby the robots are fundamentally soft and elastically deformable. Fabrication of soft robots is currently challenging and highly time- and labor-intensive. Recent advancements in three-dimensional (3D) printing of soft materials and multi-materials have become the key to enable direct manufacturing of soft robots with sophisticated designs and functions. Hence, this paper aims to review the current 3D printing processes and materials for soft robotics applications, as well as the potentials of 3D printing technologies on 3D printed soft robotics.Design/methodology/approachThe paper reviews the polymer 3D printing techniques and materials that have been used for the development of soft robotics. Current challenges to adopting 3D printing for soft robotics are also discussed. Next, the potentials of 3D printing technologies and the future outlooks of 3D printed soft robotics are presented.FindingsThis paper reviews five different 3D printing techniques and commonly used materials. The advantages and disadvantages of each technique for the soft robotic application are evaluated. The typical designs and geometries used by each technique are also summarized. There is an increasing trend of printing shape memory polymers, as well as multiple materials simultaneously using direct ink writing and material jetting techniques to produce robotics with varying stiffness values that range from intrinsically soft and highly compliant to rigid polymers. Although the recent work is done is still limited to experimentation and prototyping of 3D printed soft robotics, additive manufacturing could ultimately be used for the end-use and production of soft robotics.Originality/valueThe paper provides the current trend of how 3D printing techniques and materials are used particularly in the soft robotics application. The potentials of 3D printing technology on the soft robotic applications and the future outlooks of 3D printed soft robotics are also presented.
Rapid Prototyping Journal – Emerald Publishing
Published: Aug 20, 2020
Keywords: Additive manufacturing; 3D printing; Multi-materials; Soft robotics; Soft materials
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