3D Printing with Silk?

In my review of the Inside 3D Printing event in Singapore I mentioned a new material development I came across, having met Sum Kok Meng, who was exhibiting at the university of Singapore booth. He was excitedly telling me about the work he and his team are carrying out with silk, and, I have to be honest, I wasn’t really getting it at first. But then the penny dropped!

The start-up company — called Super Silk — is developing treated silk materials for impact protection solutions. The raw silk, responsibly sourced, is treated with an epoxy material to make an already strong material, super strong, and therefore wholly suitable to a whole range of applications and potentially as a substitute for glass fibre, carbon fibre and even Kevlar. The Super Silk material is Superior to normal silk, with a typically 50% increase in strength and a 40% increase in elasticity by comparison.

Sum told me that unlike other companies processing silk, Super Silk has specific expertise in material formulation and rapid prototyping; as well as in the selection, breeding and feeding of silkworms to produce the highest quality production of silk and cocoons. The resulting Super Silk material is a natural, flexible, thin, light and shock absorbing silk — available in different forms for a wide range of applications, such as electronics protection (think smartphones), motorcycle armour, military-armour, sportswear and biomedical. The feature image shows a very poor photo I took on site, with fine, raw silk on the left, woven silk in the middle and the treated, Super Silk on the right hand side.

Super Silk is the result of many years of R&D and has now been patented and the reason that Sum was so keen to introduce me to this material is because the company’s next — and ultimate — goal is to formulate Super Silk into different types of 3D printing materials. They are, apparently, in discussions with some of the vendors, although he wouldn’t say which ones at this time.

So, while I get that the protective applications are great, and, unfortunately, necessary, I came away thinking “I wonder what Ms van Herpen and her fashion designer cohorts will do with this ….??” A silk hat? Maybe!