Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS


SWITCH2STICK Report Summary

Project ID: 340929
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: Germany

Mid-Term Report Summary - SWITCH2STICK (Engineering of biomimetic surfaces: Switchable micropatterns for controlled adhesion and touch)

Nature has, in the course of evolution, found many fascinating solutions to engineering problems. Among those, adhesion of animals to diverse surfaces has particularly attracted the attention of several research groups worldwide. Even without secretion or glue, "dry" adhesive systems are very reliable as the contact is split into numerous fine discrete, fibrillar features, creating a three-dimensional (3D) micropatterned surface.
The aim of the present project is to design and develop, by an intense interplay between experiment and theory, active 3D micropatterns with innovative properties that require new designs, new materials or material combinations coupled with a full understanding of the theory of contact mechanics. In the first phase, our studies focused on new concepts for responsive adhesive systems to stiff objects including a hybrid polymer-metal system, a mechanical pressure switch and shape memory polymers. As a striking result, the concept of switching adhesion by load-control could successfully be implemented into an existing industrial robotic system to demonstrate a revolutionary new concept of pick & place handling, which is essential e.g. for modern production lines. Its vacuum compatibility and energy saving properties overcome the limitations of traditional concepts such as suction or electrostatic grippers. Furthermore, a concept of multi-step switchable adhesives, allowing discrete control of the adhesive forces, was successfully developed.
Our research on adhesion to soft, compliant substrates has opened new, challenging, but attractive fields of emerging applications. As a novel design concept for a 3D micropattern, the combination of a stiff stalk with a soft terminal layer was identified to overcome limitations of fibrils made from single materials. Experiments and numerical analyses disclosed a design guide line to achieve strong adhesion even to rough substrates. In the next steps, issues of biocompatibility, biodegradation and the impact of surface morphologies on cell adhesion and migration will be addressed. This will open the door to unprecedented biomedical applications.
Complementary to experimental studies, theoretical modeling of contact mechanisms was successfully conducted in collaboration with Prof. Norman Fleck, Cambridge University, UK, and Prof. Robert McMeeking, UCSB, USA. It was found how the adhesive performance and its sensitivity to changes in geometry and material can be understood. Future theoretical research will focus on the targeted optimization of the active 3D micropatterned surfaces for specific applications. The project thus closely combines new experimental concepts with theoretical predictions to arrive at optimum engineering solutions.

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