University Researchers Develop Stiff, Lightweight Material

The plate-lattice design for lightweight porous materials developed by the MIT and ETH research team. Photo courtesy of ETH Zürich/Marc Day.

A team of researchers from MIT (Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA) and ETH Zürich (Zürich, Switzerland), a Swiss-based sciences and technology university, used 3D printing technology to develop a plate-lattice material architecture that’s simultaneously stiff and porous.

The plate-lattice structure relies on interior voids, which are both lightweight and durable in all three dimensions, as the research team believes such a design ensures maximum stiffness. They also believe that plate-lattice structures will replace traditional truss-lattice designs, which was used most famously in the creation of the Eiffel Tower. 

While truss lattices have long been held as the ideal lightweight structure, modern technological and theoretical advances have provided more efficient alternatives, according to lead researcher Dirk Mohr, ETH’s professor of computational modeling of materials in manufacturing. “Using computer calculations, theory and experimental measurements, we have now established a new family of plate-lattice structures that are up to three times stiffer than truss-lattices of the same weight and volume,” Mohr said.

What makes plate-lattice structures more robust than truss lattice ones is that it can withstand loads more efficiently because the force is applied more evenly. As a result, plate-lattice structures not only maximize stiffness, but strength as well, regardless of length scale.

At this stage, manufacturing materials using 3D-printing technology is too cost prohibitive for widespread commercial use, but Mohr envisions a time when plate-lattice designs will be widely used to create materials ranging from medical implants to lightweight vehicle structures.

"When the time is right, as soon as lightweight materials are being manufactured on a large scale, these periodic plate lattices will be the design of choice," Mohr said.

Source: ETH Zürich,