Oct 25, 2017 | By Benedict

Air Force Research Laboratory researchers have joined forces with beamline scientists at the National Synchrotron Light Source II at Brookhaven National Laboratory, using extremely bright X-rays to examine 3D printing materials and processes.

The National Synchrotron Light Source II beamline helped AFRL researchers examine 3D printing inks

(Image: U.S. Air Force / Hilmar Koerner)

The U.S. Air Force is no stranger to additive manufacturing, having explored exciting new technologies such as 3D printed engines and 3D printed wearable electronics over the last few years. For some applications, however, much more 3D printing research needs to be done.

Ultimately, it’s a problem of materials. While 3D printing is able to produce much stronger parts than it could a decade ago, all defense organizations must be incredibly careful to ensure that parts intended for military use are strong enough to survive their designated task.

And that often means concocting entirely new 3D printable composites that are strong enough for critical components, but which flow smoothly out of the 3D printer in order to ensure proper layer adhesion and structural integrity.

Sometimes, however, it’s hard to tell exactly what a 3D printed composite is doing on the inside. A part may appear strong and rigid, but without the most high-tech analysis tools, it’s difficult to say for certain that a new composite is suitable for use.

That’s why researchers at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Materials and Manufacturing Directorate wanted to make use of National Synchrotron Light Source II at Brookhaven National Laboratory.

Ultra-bright X-rays helped the researchers study the bonding of composite layers

(Image: U.S. Air Force / Harry Pierson)

After successfully applying for time with the National Synchrotron Light Source II, AFRL materials scientist Dr. Hilmar Koerner (of the Polymer Matrix Composite Materials and Processing team) was able to work in collaboration with beamline scientists to conduct real-time experiments on 3D printing composite inks.

“We were awarded beam time at the X-ray Photon Correlation Spectroscopy beamline, which allows us to simultaneously look at the dynamics and structure of materials during processing with millisecond time resolution,” Koerner explains.

By using the beamline, Koerner and other AFRL researchers were able to closely examine a number of 3D printable composites containing reinforcement fillers and nanofillers, added to modify the flow and setting rates of the materials.

The results were incredibly useful. The beamline showed the researchers exactly how and why the composite inks exiting the 3D printer nozzle turn from a shear-thinned, easily flowable liquid into a gel in just a few seconds, and how the randomly oriented nanofiller particles form a self-supporting network.

“We were excited to find out that we had been granted beam time at this unique beamline,” Koerner says. “We conducted our experiments and gathered data that will allow us to better characterize these materials and shed some light into the 3D printing process of Air Force-relevant thermosetting resins and their post-processing.”

The results of the experiments will be used to refine the AFRL’s 3D printable composites and the 3D printing parameters used to print them. It could also help the laboratory researchers hone their closed-loop 3D printer feedback controls and characterize new high-temp 3D printing materials.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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