Jan 4, 2016 | By Benedict

With thousands of companies looking to capitalize on the hype surrounding 3D printing, one could be forgiven for remaining skeptical about the general quality of 3D printed products and their associated materials. With so much attention given to the first 3D printed this and biggest 3D printed that, it’s easy to forget that some unsung individuals and companies are simply working to make 3D printing the most high quality production technique it can be.

Walter E. Voit, Assistant Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Texas at Dallas, has a long-standing interest in shape memory polymers, polymer manufacturing and 3D printing technology. A desire to combine these interests led the materials expert to create Adaptive 3D, a 3D printing materials company specializing in “tough rubbers, plastics and advanced polymers”. Voit recently delivered a Talks at Google lecture, in which he explained the work being carried out by Adaptive 3D.

According to Voit, Adaptive 3D is attempting to create a range of precisely engineered plastics which can be used to produce high quality 3D prints, whilst giving the designer total control over the physical properties of the 3D printed material. By precisely engineering the internal geometries of their materials, the company is able to produce plastics of varying toughness, stretchiness and lightness.

“In this quest to make better, stretchier, lighter, stronger materials, we’ve come up with some really neat ways to build them layer by layer, to build stronger, tougher 3D printed parts,” said Voit.

Since honing its skills in the lab, Adaptive 3D has been working with a number of large Fortune 500 companies to provide specific materials-related services, with oil giant Halliburton their first major customer.

“With Halliburton, they’ve got some needs for very specific geometries in their downhole completions team,” Voit explained. “They need plastic parts that can help keep wells open or help close up wells. They need parts that have a high strain capacity and a high toughness, and have to be in pretty complex shapes. Those are the kinds of things that we like to tackle.”

The secret to Adaptive 3D’s precise manipulation of the internal structures of its materials lies in the both innovative techniques and machinery used. Its dedicated 3D printer is able to print with feature sizes in the 22-75 micron range on the X and Y axis.

“We’ve developed a new kind of 3D printer to make our polymers,” said Voit. “Following a process called stereolithography (SLA), we’ve used the mirrors contained in Texas Instruments DLP projectors to focus light at about 6,000Hz. We can turn the light on and off with total control, and we designed resins which can be selectively photopolymerized. We can then very rapidly print layer after layer, even printing a whole layer at once, at the resolution of SLA technology.”

Part of the inspiration for Adaptive 3D’s 3D printer came from an unlikely source: “Nespresso” style coffee machines. Where those coffee machines use sealed plastic pods to create a mess-free espresso, Adaptive 3D’s “Z-Cup Model” uses small cartridges to keep noxious and odious resins safely contained.

“We can package our resins into little sealed cups, which plug into our printers,” said Voit. “We can then manipulate the height of something we call a Z-fluid, a material which is a little more dense than our polymer resin. We can then very rapidly print things layer by layer within these Z-cups.”

With few companies going to such great lengths to optimize their products, Voit sees a quality void in the 3D printing industry. With so much innovation being attempted at such a rapid rate, important corners have necessarily been cut, leading to poor quality 3D prints and a consequent drop in financial investment.

“A lot of market hype surpassed the reality of where 3D printing was,” explained the Adaptive 3D founder. “In 2014 there were some pretty big [stock market] peaks and things haven’t been so rosy [since]. The reason for this is that companies have been unable to 3D print high value industrial parts.”

“Today, a lot of 3D printers are used to print molds, and then you’ll do a lot of conventional manufacturing in those molds,” Voit continued. “But it’s difficult to print a rubber or a plastic and have that go into an automobile, an oil well, a tennis shoe or a spaceship. What we’re looking at doing is solving that problem for a subset of materials.”

Voit and co. reflected on this situation, and decided to focus their attention on designing “isotropically tough parts”. Knuckling down in the laboratory resulted in the team discovering new ways of chemically cross-linking plastics. By being able to selectively control the internal geometries during 3D printing, Adaptive 3D is able to do a lot of things with a single material. Then, when new materials are introduced, a huge parameter space opens up.

Some of the most exciting materials developed by Adaptive 3D are its shape memory polymers, which can be manually deformed at certain temperatures. “It’s a material that is stiff and glassy at room temperature,” said Voit, showing his audience a small, transparent piece of plastic. “It has a modulus of 2 gigapascals, so it’s just like plexiglass. But when heated to body temperature, it’s going to get orders of magnitude less stiff. I can bend this into some meta-stable shape, then as soon as it cools off it’s going to get hard again in this new shape.”

Voit likens this process to freezing a banana in liquid nitrogen and shattering it with a hammer, with one huge difference: “We can design materials that go through that same brittle to ductal transition, but instead of over hundreds of degrees, they can do it over 5 degrees. We park the materials right at the onset of one of those transitions, so when the temperature increases a little bit, they get very soft.”

In addition to these flexible plastics, Adaptive 3D is working on further exciting projects, such as self-healing polymers, and experimental materials with a 400% strain capacity, a tensile capacity of 50MPa, and a toughness 101MJ/m3. The company is actively seeking clients and new management.



Posted in 3D Printing Materials



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Benjamin wrote at 1/6/2016 5:21:34 PM:

au contraire, metal is not plastic.

james kalagan wrote at 1/5/2016 5:56:14 PM:

There is nothing new. watch at this video : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0rGPzsTaXsc

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