Stronger 3D printing (Day 7)

3D letter ball3D printing has made mainstream news in recent years and there are regular reports of fascinating products being produced by this quickly developing technology.

Last week there was a story about researchers at the University Medical Centre Utrecht experimenting using stem cells in 3D bio-printing. The result could be 3D printed body parts.

The materials used in 3D printing are important to the whole process.

Consumer grade 3D printing has resulted in new materials that have been developed specifically for 3D printers. For example, filament materials have been developed to imitate wood, in its appearance as well as its texture.

Infusing carbon fibre into printable plastics, allowing for a stronger, lighter material have also been developed.

But there are still challenges, especially structural.

One of the materials used in 3D printing is Carbon Nanotubes (CNTs). CNTs have lots of potential but in 3D form can lose some of their strength.

It’s an issued looked at by Brandon Sweeney – a chemical engineering doctoral candidate at Texas Tech Univerisity. And he may have found a solution.

He found that the conductive properties of CNTs, meant that when the material was exposed to microwave radiation, the CNTs would heat up quickly and extensively, while the polymer filaments extruded from 3D printers would remain relatively cool.

The result was a fusing together all the layers in a polymer 3D print, without affecting the overall shape of the object printed. On the outside just the same. But internally much stronger.

Sweeney is continuing his research into this fascinating approach, and along with Micah Green, associate professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering, and Mohammed Saed, professor of electrical engineering, at Texas Tech University, have secured intellectual property rights to the new technology.

Take a look at this video to find out more about this fascinating process.