Lightweight 3D cellular composites inspired by balsa

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Journal Article
Bioinspiration and Biomimetics, 2017, 12 (2)
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© 2017 IOP Publishing Ltd. Additive manufacturing technologies offer new ways to fabricate cellular materials with composite cell walls, mimicking the structure and mechanical properties of woods. However, materials limitations and a lack of design tools have confined the usefulness of 3D printed cellular materials. We develop new carbon fiber reinforced, epoxy inks for 3D printing which result in printed materials with longitudinal Young's modulus up to 57 GPa (exceeding the longitudinal modulus of wood cell wall material). To guide the design of hierarchical cellular materials, we developed a parameterized, multi-scale, finite element model. Computational homogenization based on finite element simulations at multiple length scales is employed to obtain the elastic properties of the material at multiple length scales. Parameters affecting the elastic response of cellular composites, such as the volume fraction, orientation distribution, and aspect ratio of fibers within the cell walls as well as the cell geometry and relative density are included in the model. To validate the model, experiments are conducted on both solid carbon fiber/epoxy composites and cellular structures made from them, showing excellent agreement with computational multi-scale model predictions, both at the cell-wall and at the cellular-structure levels. Using the model, cellular structures are designed and experimentally shown to achieve a specific stiffness nearly as high as that observed in balsa wood. The good agreement between the multi-scale model predictions and experimental data provides confidence in the practical utility of this model as a tool for designing novel 3D cellular composites with unprecedented specific elastic properties.
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