Research Article
No access
Published Online: 1 March 2018

Production Techniques for 3D Printed Inflatable Elastomer Structures: Part I—Fabricating Air-Permeable Forms and Coating with Inflatable Silicone Membranes via Spray Deposition

Publication: 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing
Volume 5, Issue Number 1


This article is the first in a two-part series describing a process for conformal three-dimensional (3D) printing on to inflatable substrates. Details for fabricating seamless, tubular elastomeric membranes by spray deposition on a double-curved air-permeable mandrel are presented in Part I. The mandrels are created by casting gypsum into a desired form, and they are made permeable by applying pressurized air to the central core of the gypsum body during its crystallization phase. The membranes—in this case made from silicone—are created by spray deposition onto the mandrel by using a constant surface angular velocity approach. These membranes are inflated so as to impart mechanical pre-strain in the rubber by stretching. The techniques described are particularly suited to the fabrication of 3D printed pneumatic artificial muscles and dielectric elastomer actuators. They can also be used to create removable substrates on which a 3D print can be extruded, or alternatively integrated into a four-dimensional print where varying levels of mechanical strain can be distributed through the various printed layers. Uses for the techniques described include soft robotics, stretchable electronics, biomechanical implants, and custom bioreactors, particularly when combined with direct ink writing techniques.

Get full access to this article

View all available purchase options and get full access to this article.


Coulter FB, Ianakiev A. 4D printing inflatable silicone structures. 3D Print Addit Manuf 2015;2:140–144.
Petralia MT, Wood R. Fabrication and analysis of dielectric-elastomer minimum-energy structures for highly-deformable soft robotic system. Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS), 2010 IEEE/RSJ International Conference, Taipei, Taiwan. 2010; pp.2357–2363.
Araromi OA, Conn AT, Ling CS, Rossiter JM, Vaidyanthan R, Burgess SC. Spray deposited multi-layered dielectric elastomer actuators. Sens Actuators A 2011;167:459–467.
Chooneea K, Syms RRA, Ahmada MM, Zoub H. Post processing of microstructures by PDMS spray deposition. Sens Actuators A 2009;155:253–262.
Pelrine RE, Kornbluh RD, Joseph JP. Electrostriction of polymer dielectrics with compliant electrode as a means of actuation. Sens Actuators A 1998;64:77–85.
Carpi F, De Rossi D. Dielectric elastomer cylindrical actuators: electromechanical modelling and experimental evaluation. Mater Sci Eng C 2004;24:555–562.
Johnson MA, Beatty MF. The Mullins effect in equibiaxial extension and its influence on the inflation of a balloon. Int J Eng Sci 1995;33:223–245.
Zhang R, Lochmatter P, Kunz A, Kovacs G. Spring roll dielectric elastomer actuators for a portable force feedback glove. Smart Structures and Materials 2006: Electroactive Polymer Actuators and Devices (EAPAD). Proc SPIE 2006;6168:61681T.
Rossiter J, Walters P, Stoimenov B. Printing 3D dielectric elastomer actuators for soft robotics. Electroactive Polymer Actuators and Devices (EAPAD). Proc SPIE 2009;7287:72870H.
Lochmatter P. Development of a shell-like electroactive polymer (EAP) actuator. PhD thesis. Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich, 2007.
Soleimani M, Menon C. Preliminary investigation of a balloon shaped actuator based on electroactive elastomers. Smart Mater Struct 2010;19:047001.
Kofod G. The static actuation of dielectric elastomer actuators: how does pre-stretch improve actuation. J Phys D Appl Phys 2008;41:215405.
Plante JS, Dubowsky S. Large-scale failure modes of dielectric elastomer actuators. Int J Solids Struct 2006;43:7727–7751.
Potz M, Artusi M, Soleimani M, Menon C, Cocuzza S, Debei S. Rolling dielectric elastomer actuator with bulged cylindrical shape. Smart Mater Struct 2010;19:127001.
Ahmadi S, Gooyers M, Soleimani M, Menon C. Fabrication and electromechanical examination of a spherical dielectric elastomer actuator. Smart Mater Struct 2013;22:115004.
Soleimani M. Development of a novel balloon shaped electroactive polymer (EAP) actuator. Master of Applied Science thesis. Simon Frazer University, British Coumbia, 2010.
Park YL, Santos J, Galloway KG, Goldfield EC, Wood RJ. 2014, May. A soft wearable robotic device for active knee motions using flat pneumatic artificial muscles. In Robotics and Automation (ICRA), 2014 IEEE International Conference, Hong Kong, China, 2014; pp.4805–4810.
Bryer JF, Steele RE. Treatment of plaster molds. Patent US 2632209, 1949.
Ceramic Industry Magazine. Synthetic molds go mainstream. Published November 2000.
Lafarge. Prestia form datasheet. 2013. Accessed February 26, 2018.
Saint Gobain. Pottery plaster datasheet. Accessed February 26, 2018.

Information & Authors


Published In

cover image 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing
3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing
Volume 5Issue Number 1March 2018
Pages: 5 - 16


Published in print: March 2018
Published online: 1 March 2018


Request permissions for this article.




Fergal B. Coulter
Medical Device Design Group, Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland.
Complex Materials, Department of Materials, ET H Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.
Brian S. Coulter
Soils and Analytical Services Department, Teagasc, Johnstown Castle Research Centre, Wexford, Ireland.
Jason R. Marks
Plymouth College of Art, Plymouth, United Kingdom.
Anton Ianakiev
Department of Civil Engineering, School of Architecture, Design and Built Environment, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, United Kingdom.


Opposite page: Three silicone rings extruded on to a sprayed silicone balloon, which is then inflated. Photo credit: Fergal Coulter.
Address correspondence to:Fergal B. CoulterMedical Device Design GroupDepartment of Mechanical and Materials EngineeringUniversity College DublinBelfieldDublin 4Ireland
E-mail: [email protected]

Author Disclosure Statement

No competing financial interests exist.

Metrics & Citations



Export citation

Select the format you want to export the citations of this publication.

View Options

Get Access

Access content

To read the fulltext, please use one of the options below to sign in or purchase access.

Society Access

If you are a member of a society that has access to this content please log in via your society website and then return to this publication.

Restore your content access

Enter your email address to restore your content access:

Note: This functionality works only for purchases done as a guest. If you already have an account, log in to access the content to which you are entitled.

View options


View PDF/ePub

Full Text

View Full Text







Copy the content Link

Share on social media

Back to Top