Fabrication of slender elastic shells by the coating of curved surfaces
Various manufacturing techniques exist to produce double-curvature shells, including injection, rotational and blow molding, as well as dip coating. However, these industrial processes are typically geared for mass production and are not directly applicable to laboratory research settings, where adaptable, inexpensive and predictable prototyping tools are desirable. Here, we study the rapid fabrication of hemispherical elastic shells by coating a curved surface with a polymer solution that yields a nearly uniform shell, upon polymerization of the resulting thin film. We experimentally characterize how the curing of the polymer affects its drainage dynamics and eventually selects the shell thickness. The coating process is then rationalized through a theoretical analysis that predicts the final thickness, in quantitative agreement with experiments and numerical simulations of the lubrication flow field. This robust fabrication framework should be invaluable for future studies on the mechanics of thin elastic shells and their intrinsic geometric nonlinearities.