The materials science team at New York University's Tanden Engineering Institute has developed a 3D printed composite foam method for use in the automotive, aircraft, marine and submarine manufacturing industries.
The composite foam consists of a mixture of tiny hollow ceramic or glass spheres and an epoxy or plastic resin material. This material is very popular in the manufacturing industry, because it is strong and lightweight, and full buoyancy. (Understandably, these three characteristics make it particularly useful in submarine production.)
The team said that the ability of 3D-printed composite foams to improve the compression and physical properties of more complex parts and thereby improve the currently used injection-molded foam parts.
The research team created a printable filament consisting of microspheres composed of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and recycled fly ash (a by-product of coal combustion). This composite foam can be printed on off-the-shelf 3D printers and fully recyclable.
Nikhil Gupta, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the project, said: "Our focus is on developing a hardware that can be used in commercial printers without changing the printer. There are many parameters that affect the printing process, including building panels, temperature and Print speed. Finding the best set of print conditions is the key to making high quality printing possible.
A key element in the development of filaments is finding the right size for the hollow microspheres so they can easily pass through the printer nozzle without clogging. Ultimately, microspheres range in diameter from 0.04 mm to 0.07 mm and easily pass through a standard 1.7 mm printer nozzle.
It has been reported that 3D printed composite foam is comparable to injection molded parts in terms of tensile strength and density. The team is currently working on how to optimize the development of submarine vehicles that can operate at specific depths.