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Published August 12, 2021 | Supplemental Material
Journal Article Open

Structured fabrics with tunable mechanical properties


Structured fabrics, such as woven sheets or chain mail armours, derive their properties both from the constitutive materials and their geometry. Their design can target desirable characteristics, such as high impact resistance, thermal regulation, or electrical conductivity. Once realized, however, the fabrics' properties are usually fixed. Here we demonstrate structured fabrics with tunable bending modulus, consisting of three-dimensional particles arranged into layered chain mails. The chain mails conform to complex shapes, but when pressure is exerted at their boundaries, the particles interlock and the chain mails jam. We show that, with small external pressure (about 93 kilopascals), the sheets become more than 25 times stiffer than in their relaxed configuration. This dramatic increase in bending resistance arises because the interlocking particles have high tensile resistance, unlike what is found for loose granular media. We use discrete-element simulations to relate the chain mail's micro-structure to macroscale properties and to interpret experimental measurements. We find that chain mails, consisting of different non-convex granular particles, undergo a jamming phase transition that is described by a characteristic power-law function akin to the behaviour of conventional convex media. Our work provides routes towards lightweight, tunable and adaptive fabrics, with potential applications in wearable exoskeletons, haptic architectures and reconfigurable medical supports.

Additional Information

© 2021 Nature Publishing Group. Received 23 August 2020; Accepted 07 June 2021; Published 11 August 2021. We thank K. Liu for discussions; A. Pate, H. Ramirez and M. Zuleta for printing the aluminum chain mails ; D. Ruffatto for helping with printing early-stage prototypes; and S. Fan for assistance with photographing the 3D-printed sample in Figs. 1d, f and 4a, b. Y.W and C.D. acknowledge support from the Foster and Coco Stanback Space Innovation fund, Facebook and the Army Research Office grant W911NF-17-1-0147. L.L. and J.E.A. acknowledge support from the Army Research Office (MURI grant number W911NF-19-1-0245). This research was carried out at the California Institute of Technology and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and funded through the President's and Director's Fund Program. Computational resources were provided by the High Performance Computing Center at Caltech. Data availability: The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request and online (https://github.com/Daraio-lab/StructuredFabricsTunable-WangY). These authors contributed equally: Yifan Wang, Liuchi Li. Author Contributions: Y.W. and C.D. designed the sample structure and the experiments. Y.W. fabricated the sample, performed the experiments and analysed experimental data. L.L. and J.E.A. designed the LS-DEM model. L.L. performed the LS-DEM simulations and analysed numerical results. D.H. printed the metallic chain mail. Y.W., L.L. and C.D. wrote the manuscript. All authors interpreted the results and reviewed the manuscript. The authors declare no competing interests. Peer review information: Nature thanks Laurent Orgeas and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Attached Files

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August 22, 2023
October 23, 2023