Breaking the Mold: Dr. Voit Designs New Plastics Technology

July 10, 2018

Think about your favorite product. Your best sounding headphones, most comfortable pair of blue jeans, or maybe the trustworthy family car you drove in college that inspired you to buy a newer model after graduation. We seek brands we trust. We refer them to our family and friends. Most importantly, we return to them time and again because they become a part of our identity.

“I’m very grateful to the McDermott family and to the leadership at UT Dallas for creating an intellectual environment that breeds success.”

Before products make their way into the marketplace, visionaries like Dr. Walter Voit, CEO of Adaptive3D, take remarkable strides to identify distinctive niches in the consumer and industrial marketplace where the development of new technologies will make impactful, lasting contributions. A joint associate professor of mechanical and materials science engineering, Dr. Voit’s team—winners of the esteemed InnoSTARS Competition 2017 in the Advanced Manufacturing and New Materials category—has developed the “world’s highest-strain 3D-printable photopolymer” that is revolutionizing the additive manufacturing market.

With generous funding from Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the National Institute of Health (NIH), as well as the support of longtime partnerships such as Texas Instruments, Dr. Voit has led Adaptive3D to unparalleled success as they work towards perfecting new reaction chemistries.

“What we’re doing at Adaptive is designing new plastics for this new world of additive manufacturing.”

Different from traditional subtractive techniques, additive manufacturing is the process of creating a three-dimensional object via material created in layers. Dr. Voit shared with us that 3D printing technology has seen successful growth each year since the late 1980s. Manufacturing goods by layer and struts allow engineers to build strong, low-density structures. Limited materials, however, pose challenges.

“Imagine if [a] beam could be made out of micro-truss structures that are thinner than a human hair. You could engineer materials with biological fractal complexity. We could give a really good strength-to-weight ratio for materials, lightweight materials, and build better-manufactured parts.”

“What we’re doing at Adaptive is designing new plastics for this new world of additive manufacturing.”

ToughRubber™ 30.450, Adaptive3D’s flagship product, celebrates novel and notable attributes. One of its distinguishing features is that this product can stretch out an impressive four times its original length, or 450 percent, absorb deformation and recover. Conversely, additively manufactured parts are most often brittle and suffer breakage. Because of the high-energy absorption that ToughRubber can withstand, it can be utilized in parts and products for industries such as aerospace, automotive, medical, and footwear.

“There is this critical space between chemists and materials scientists,” Dr. Voit told us. “Chemists are dealing with how reactions happen at the atomic scale and material scientists are building parts from the top down. And they kind of meet in this realm—the nano world—and it’s really difficult for computers, still today, to model that world.” This realm is the space where polymer physics is central to understanding the world of plastics and the Adaptive3D team get a first look at those reactions in their research.

While in the lab, Dr. Voit’s team works to understand these new chemistries and study the properties of mixing compounds and ratios. Throughout his research, Adaptive3D has had some interesting challenges and discoveries in the lab and marketplace. A sulfur-hydrogen group known as thiols, for example, are an esoteric class of compounds that have a distinctive smell. “These,” Dr. Voit shared, “are what skunks can spit out if you have the wrong kinds.” Thiols also have a rapid reaction with other components and the discovery was made on how to change this reaction to the thiol groups using the right combination of monomers, oligomers dyes, inhibitors, initiators, sensitizers, and fillers. Thiol-based chemistries have exceptional benefits and can produce strong, durable additive products.

“Chemistry is filled with eureka moments.”

In the marketplace, ToughRubber provides solutions other additive manufacturing materials lack. Most 3D printing environments are expensive and struggle with insufficient materials properties. Internal geometry is needed on 3D printable products and most companies create a high-volume product that lacks functionality. As the consumer marketplace continues to evolve, new products are constantly on the horizon. Research is a critical part of a product’s success, be it in quality of the materials, the ethics behind manufacturing, or the sociocultural and economic influences on the population. One focus consumers are particularly interested in is personal health. How is this driving new successes for 3DAdaptive? Watch out, Michael Jordan. Their newest research is aimed towards sneakers.

“What’s been exciting is to see this whole team of great scientists, researchers, and chemists—a lot of whom are former students from UT Dallas—getting to be in the lab making these discoveries daily and weekly.”

“So what we’re trying to do is lighten that midsole portion to more effectively translate stresses and strains from your leg, knee, foot to ground—to have a lighter-weight shoe that’s more comfortable; that gives you more energy back when you’re running. It uses less material, it’s greener, it’s more sustainable, and it’s made with superior plastics and then rubbers.”

With the advent of the internet and product research easily available, a growing number of consumers practice conscious consumption. Product origin is key. Ethical behavior such as responsible environmental manufacturing processes is one of the many concerns buyers take into account when making positive purchases. From the chemistry in the lab to its connection with consumers, ToughRubber is breaking the plastics mold with its new technology in a way that buyers can feel good about.

Dr. Voit is extremely proud to be a member of the UT Dallas family where he creates products that serve the backbone of his community and many others. His research and discoveries with ToughRubber 30.450 fill voids in engineering that will transform the landscape of the world as we know it. He shares with us the secret of how he has been able to do this.

“Success really is luck—you’ve got to be in the right place at the right time and get lucky. To the credit of the administration here, they’ve created that right place and right time and so now it’s up to really talented teams to get lucky. That’s happening with greater and greater frequency and I’m very excited about what we can do for Dallas, for Texas, and for the country.”

In his free time, Dr. Voit enjoys hitting the outdoors where he can play basketball and soccer, or go for a hike and a swim, but will also take time to play some of his favorite board games: The Settlers of Catan, Dominion, or Energy Empires. He loves spending time with his family. His wife is a surgeon here in Dallas and his 20-month old daughter is the “joy his life”.

Together they enjoy teaching her the ABCs, reading, and blowing bubbles. “It’s the small things in life,” he tells us, “that make all the difference.”

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