The chain mail fabric is flexible like cloth. (Credit: Nanyang Technological University)

A new type of chain mail fabric is flexible like cloth but can stiffen on demand. The lightweight fabric is 3D printed from nylon plastic polymers and comprises hollow octahedrons (a shape with eight equal triangular faces) that interlock with each other.

When encased in a plastic envelope and vacuum-packed, it becomes 25 times more rigid and can hold up over 50 times its own weight. The chain mail fabric can also be made from 3D printed aluminum that can harden to protect a user against a stronger impact.

This next-generation fabric paves the way for exoskeletons that can help the elderly to stand, walk, and carry objects. Moving forward, the team is looking to improve the material and fabric performance of their chain mail and to explore more methods of stiffening it, such as through magnetism, electricity, or temperature.

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