Three-Dimensional Printing Fiber Reinforced Hydrogel Composites

An additive manufacturing process that combines digital modeling and 3D printing was used to prepare fiber reinforced hydrogels in a single-step process. The composite materials were fabricated by selectively pattering a combination of alginate/acrylamide gel precursor solution and an epoxy based UV-curable adhesive (Emax 904 Gel-SC) with an extrusion printer. UV irradiation was used to cure the two inks into a single composite material. Spatial control of fiber distribution within the digital models allowed for the fabrication of a series of materials with a spectrum of swelling behavior and mechanical properties with physical characteristics ranging from soft and wet to hard and dry. A comparison with the “rule of mixtures” was used to show that the swollen composite materials adhere to standard composite theory. A prototype meniscus cartilage was prepared to illustrate the potential application in bioengineering.