Aug 28, 2017 | By David

A high-performance material commonly used for insulating space craft and satellites has been successfully 3D printed for the first time. This is a significant breakthrough that stands to increase the number of potential applications for 3D printing technology in space exploration projects, as well as the electronics and aerospace industries, where the material is also frequently used. Researchers from Virginia Tech were able to synthesize the molecules required to 3D print the polyimide material, which is formally known as Kapton.

The process of creating the necessary macro-molecules to 3D print Kapton, in such a way that they would remain stable and maintain their thermal properties, took researchers from Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering and College of Science around a year to complete. The success of the project means that a theoretically limitless variety of shaped parts and components can now be made from Kapton, which was previously only possible to produce in the form of large, thin sheets. These gold foil-like sheets are present in the multi-layer insulation found on many satellites and spacecraft, to protect them from the extreme heat and cold conditions they are exposed to.

The difficulty of manufacturing parts made of Kapton is linked to its molecular structure. It is an aromatic polymer composed of carbons and hydrogens inside benzene rings, which gives it exceptional thermal and chemical stability, but also means that complex structures have been nearly impossible to produce.

3D printing parts with Kapton doesn’t just expand the range of possibilities for the industries that already make use of it, but also for 3D printing technology itself. Typically, 3D printable polymers start to lose their mechanical strength at about 300 degrees Fahrenheit. According to the research team, Kapton can maintain its properties up to 1,020 degrees Fahrenheit. This means 3D printing could now be used for all kinds of new high-performance applications.

“We are now able to print the highest temperature polymer ever – about 285 degrees Fahrenheit higher in deflection temperature than any other existing printable polymer. Additionally, our 3-D printed material has equivalent strength to the conventionally processed thin-film Kapton material,” said Christopher Williams, an associate professor with the Department of Mechanical Engineering in the College of Engineering, and leader of the Design, Research, and Education for Additive Manufacturing Systems (DREAMS) Laboratory.

The project was a large collaborative effort, with Williams working together with Timothy Long, a professor with the Department of Chemistry and the director of the Macromolecules Innovation Institute (MII), as well as then-post-doctorate researcher Maruti Hegde, now a research associate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. College of Engineering doctoral students Viswanath Meenakshisundaram, of Bangalore, India, and Nicholas Chartrain, of Westfield, New Jersey, were also involved. Their research has been published in the Advanced Materials Journal under a fitting title: ''Processing the Nonprocessable''.

The team chose to synthesize the molecules for 3D printing Kapton as it was a relatively ubiquitous polymer, enabling their work to have a rapid impact on existing technologies. They eventually filed a patent for their material, after a year of testing in different scenarios and fine-tuning how it is printed, and several major companies have already expressed their interest.

“We can imagine this being used for printing a satellite structure, serving as a high-temp filter or a high-temp flow nozzle,” said Williams. “We can imagine using the wide geometric and microscale possibilities offered by 3-D printing to further improve existing designs – say, a more lightweight satellite, a filter that provides optimum/efficient flow, a nozzle with a designed flow path that allows greater exit velocity and efficiency.”



Posted in 3D Printing Materials



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Robiol eslam wrote at 9/3/2017 5:19:15 PM:


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