3d printing, also known as additive manufacturing (AM), represents significant potential for the use of graphene material as an additive to the fast growing range of printable materials. This is increasingly true as there is a clear shift towards producing functional parts for industrial end use, including aerospace and automotive applications.
Despite being a relatively low volume market at the moment, AM has several useful properties than make it an attractive market to a graphene producer as well as to end users. The AM market has a strong appetite to test new materials and to identify innovative applications not just in the AM processes, but in the characteristics of the materials that are used. Rapid process and testing times for new products mean that there is also a low barrier to entry compared to supplying nano-enhanced materials in other manufacturing industries.
Because traditional AM materials are often quite expensive on their own, adding a relatively expensive material like graphene has less of an impact on the final costs than it might in some other large scale commercial applications.
One of the advantages of AM is the ability to make one-off or specialty parts with no loss in production speed. Parts are also essentially the same price regardless of whether you print a few or a few thousand pieces.
Although there are a large number of different AM technologies, there are really just three formats of material, (powders, liquids and filaments) and there are three main classes of material (metals, plastics and ceramics). Graphene has the potential to add desirable characteristics across many of these technologies, formats and material classes.
One of the most important materials in use with AM today is polymers. There is significant scope for graphene to gain traction and market share here as an additive, primarily due to the ease of processing graphene into polymers. Common thermoplastics used in sintering and extrusion AM techniques include ABS, PLA, nylons (6 and 12), TPU, PET and HIPS. Thermosets such as epoxy and acrylics are also popular in UV cured AM applications. Despite the relatively difficult processing challenges for metals and ceramics, there is potential for graphene to also add value across those technologies.
Graphene has the ability to provide improvements to conventional AM materials and in some case, these material improvements are unique to graphene. In particular, graphene can have an impact on;
• Much lower solids content
• Shift material into a printability window
• Improve HDT and shrinkage
• Mechanical reinforcement where certain macro additives can’t be used
• Significant multi-functionality (5+ uplifts with one additive)
Essentially graphene is adding benefits to or improving on the performance of a given consumable as well as mitigating or reducing the negatives. Multifunctionality is also important; gaining multiple beneficial properties without resorting to using several additives that might be incompatible with each other and doing so with a low addition rate lowers the risk of adding negative performance into a polymer, such as lower processability or brittleness.
3D Printing and AM is just another of the many areas where graphene is proving worthy of a much closer look by materials scientists, product designers, engineers and production specialist across a broad range of industries.
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