3D printed flexible armor inspired by mollusks

Ling Li associate professor at the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (VT) has led a group of researchers to develop flexible scaled armor inspired by mollusks.

The group was trying to improve on man made armor that limits flexibility and maneuverability, by using 3D printing and computational modeling they developed scaled ceramic armor that is flexible .

“Most mollusks have a single rigid shell, such as the abalone, or two shells, such as clams,” explained Professor Li. “But the chiton has eight mineralized plates covering the top of the creature and around its base, it has a girdle of very small scales assembled like fish scales, that provide flexibility as well as protection.”

The team studied the chiton because they posses hundreds of small scales arranged on a soft girdle that surrounds their shell plates that allows for protection while still being mobile.

“We studied this [girdle scales] in a very detailed way,” said Professor Li. “We quantified its internal microstructure, chemical composition, nano-mechanical properties, and three-dimensional geometry. We studied the geometrical variations of the scales across multiple chiton species, and we also investigated how the scales assemble together through 3D tomography analysis.”

After copying the scales, they tested different sizes orientations and geometries on flat and curved surfaces, the study notes that when there is pressure applied to the scales they compress on themselves and become a solid barrier.

It was also observed that when the 3D printed scales were not under force, they can move on top of one another to provide differing amounts of flexibility dependent upon shape and placement. Professor Li added, “With these physical prototypes of controlled specimen geometries and sizes, the team conducted direct mechanical testing on them with controlled loading conditions.”


Essop, Anas, et al. “Researchers Develop Flexible 3D Printed Armor Inspired by Mollusks.” 3D Printing Industry, 13 Jan. 2020, 3dprintingindustry.com/news/researchers-develop-flexible-3d-printed-armor-inspired-by-mollusks-167104/.

V, Carlota. “Researchers Create Bio-Inspired Flexible Armor Using 3D Printing.” 3Dnatives, 14 Jan. 2020, https://www.3dnatives.com/en/bioinspired-flexible-armor-3d-printing-140120205/