New Military Multi-Polymer Filament Tech Turns Low-Price 3D Printers Into Excessive-Tech Producers

Manufacture of 3D printer multipolymer filaments


Army researchers are turning low-cost printers into high-tech manufacturing facilities that save money and allow critical parts to be printed quickly when needed.

The Army has a new type of multipolymer filament for commonly used desktop 3D printers. This advancement can save money and make it easier to quickly print critical parts when needed.

Research is also the cover story of the April issue of Advanced Engineering Materials, a monthly, peer-reviewed scientific journal.

Parts made with these printers have historically had poor strength and toughness, which has hitherto prevented affordable printers from being used to provide on-demand supplies of military parts, particularly in the field. The Army’s new material overcomes these shortcomings and potentially enables soldiers to use inexpensive printers to produce parts that, after a few hours of heat, can achieve mechanical properties that are robust enough to withstand harsh field operations.

This breakthrough is an important step forward in the Army’s expedition manufacturing, said Dr. Eric D. Wetzel, who leads the Emerging Composites team and serves as research director for soldier materials in the Army Research Laboratory of the US Army Combat Capabilities Development Command.

Wetzel’s research encompasses a wide range of technological solutions that can increase the lethality of soldiers by improving the way warfighters fire, move, communicate, protect, and maintain themselves.

“The army wants to be able to print parts on site to simplify logistics by carrying digital parts files instead of physical parts. Until now, however, the technologies for making high strength parts in expeditionary environments have not been practical. These printers are too big, power hungry, fragile, or messy to start with, and their raw materials may have special memory requirements. “

This technology can enable the army to use inexpensive, simple printers to make high quality parts.

According to the paper, making molten filaments, or FFF, is the most common additive manufacturing technology, but parts made using FFF do not have sufficient mechanical integrity for most engineering applications.

The research team used a novel thermal drawing process to create a two-material filament containing acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene, known as ABS, with a star-shaped polycarbonate core.

Manufacture of multipolymer filaments

The heat drawing process for filament manufacturing begins with the new multipolymer filament invented by the CCDC Army Research Laboratory. Photo credit: US Army

This dual-material filament is then used as the starting material in a conventional FFF printer to create 3D solids with a mesostructure made of ABS / polycarbonate composite core.

This novel DM filament can revolutionize additive manufacturing and enable low-cost printers to produce parts with mechanical properties that compete with injection molded plastics, as stated in the paper.

In ongoing experiments, the army research team is experimenting with new material pairings, pressure conditions and annealing protocols in order to further improve the mechanical properties and shorten processing times. Your goal is to reduce the current glow times from 24 to 48 hours to four hours or less.

Researchers are using a pilot manufacturing line to manufacture larger quantities of the filament over the next several months and provide material samples for a variety of army’s transition partners.

“The ability to additively manufacture parts from a high-strength polymer using the FFF process at field, division and / or depot level certainly offers warfighters the opportunity to produce better temporary parts much faster – hours compared to days or weeks. and at a significantly lower cost – often pennies compared to ten dollars, said Jeff Wallace, a mechanical engineer with the Army’s C5ISR center at APG. “Soldiers also improvise as needed and often find their own design solutions to the problems they face. Offering a higher strength polymer material to use in the desktop printers they have access to gives them the ability to innovate on the fly to temporarily solve a larger number of supply and design issues. Your designs would then be sent to the appropriate engineering support activity for evaluation. “

The lab has filed several patent applications for the technology, and one aspect of the technology has already been licensed: thermally drawn filaments using a specialty polymer for use in additive manufacturing. The Army is looking for additional trading partners to accelerate the development and deployment of this technology, which could have broad applicability to a wide range of additively manufactured thermoplastic parts.

Reference: “Robust, additively manufactured structures, manufactured with double thermoplastic filaments” by Kevin R. Hart, Ryan M. Dunn and Eric D. Wetzel, December 10, 2020, Advanced Engineering Materials.
DOI: 10.1002 / adem.201901184

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