Engineers tap into 2000-year-old Japanese cutting art for stronger, removable tape

Virginia Tech engineers have created stronger, removable tape by harnessing kirigami.
Sade Agard
Up close: Associate Professor Michael Bartlett pulls enhanced tape developed in his lab at Virginia Tech.
Up close: Associate Professor Michael Bartlett pulls enhanced tape developed in his lab at Virginia Tech.

Photo by Alex Parrish for Virginia Tech. 

Virginia Tech engineers have harnessed the power of the 2000-year-old Japanese art form, kirigami — the art of cutting paper— to significantly enhance the adhesive bond of ordinary tape, according to a press release published on June 22. 

By incorporating cleverly designed cuts into the tape, the researchers made it stick strongly while remaining easily removable in a specific direction. Their approach could have far-reaching implications for various applications such as robotic grasping, health monitoring wearables, and assembly and recycling processes in manufacturing.

How does the art of cutting engineer stronger tape?

Kirigami has gained attention among engineers and materials scientists due to its ability to create mechanically robust, airy, interconnected geometrical structures. 

Researchers have utilized this technique to develop stretchable batteries, conductors, solar panels with sun-tracking cells, and complex three-dimensional structures. The Virginia Tech team sought to explore how the ancient art method could be leveraged to engineer adhesive tapes that exhibit superior strength without damaging surfaces upon removal.

The team, led by Michael Bartlett, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Virginia Tech, discovered that strategically placed cuts in a film could enhance adhesion while enabling easy release. 

Surprisingly, well-designed cuts improve adhesive properties, allowing for precise control over stickiness. The kirigami structures dictate the amount of force required to remove the tape.

Engineers tap into 2000-year-old Japanese cutting art for stronger, removable tape
Associate Professor Michael Bartlett shows the laser cuts made in tape at his Virginia Tech lab.

According to an earlier study by Bartlett, the approach involves fine-tuning the tape's reversible stickiness through careful experimentation with the spacing, dimensions, and areas of the rectangular cuts. The most robust adhesion was achieved when the tape featured thick divisions between the tops and bottoms of the windows, with thinner divisions along the edges and between the two rectangular columns.

When the tape is bent and peeled off, it requires greater force to remove it from open regions to stiffer tape, compared to uncut, solid areas. This recurring transition along the tape's length enhances stickiness. However, the tape is more easily removed along its width, contrary to uncut tape.

The ability to tune the stickiness of the adhesive using kirigami is a novel approach, said Douglas P. Holmes, a professor of mechanical engineering at Boston University, in an article by C&EN. 

Rather than adjusting material properties, engineers can simply modify the geometry of existing materials. Further research is needed to fully understand the stresses around the edges of the kirigami cuts.

When were adhesive tapes first developed?

Adhesive tapes, developed in the 1920s for automobile painters, have grown in importance due to their versatility. They revolutionized the process of painting dual colors on car bodies. Since then, adhesive tapes have diversified to include variations like masking tape, invisible tape for gift wrapping, electrical tape for insulation, and duct tape for multifunctional applications.

Their evolution has significantly impacted industries, providing efficient solutions for various needs — including everyday ones. Given their importance, do you share our enthusiasm for embracing innovative studies, such as this latest one, aimed at improving adhesive tapes? After all, it is through such advancements that researchers can further enhance their functionality and meet the ever-growing demands of modern applications.

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