Journal of Materials Science

, Volume 54, Issue 8, pp 6542–6551 | Cite as

3D printing of structural gradient soft actuators by variation of bioinspired architectures

  • Luquan Ren
  • Bingqian Li
  • Zhengyi Song
  • Qingping LiuEmail author
  • Lei RenEmail author
  • Xueli Zhou
Materials for life sciences


Soft actuators, which ensure the safety of robot–human interactions, extend the range of robotic operations to fragile and sensitive objects. Shape memory polymers are one of the building material for soft actuators due to their spontaneous shape memory properties under stimulation. However, the global, discontinuous and imprecise motion put significant limitations on their wide application. Recently, it has been demonstrated that by using motifs in nature, anisotropic, heterogeneous properties of soft actuators can be fabricated. Here, it is shown that soft actuators with local response and continuously varying shape memory properties can be realized through integrating bioinspired arranged building blocks (fibers). The modified 3D printing technique provides the pathway of assembling these fibers as designed. We have revealed the underlying mechanism of the formation of gradient shape memory properties. Simulations successfully demonstrate the feasibility of our approach to manipulate shape memory behaviors. The translation of nature’s design motifs offers synthetic soft actuators the opportunity towards unprecedented applications such as soft robot, drug carrier and other intelligent applications.



This research was supported by National Key R&D Program of China (2018YFB1105100) and the Key Scientific and Technological Project of Jilin Province (No. 20170204061GX).

Supplementary material

10853_2019_3344_MOESM1_ESM.docx (3.1 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 3154 kb)


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Key Laboratory of Bionic Engineering (Ministry of Education)Jilin UniversityChangchunChina
  2. 2.School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil EngineeringUniversity of ManchesterManchesterUK

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