Novel high performance polymeric composite materials for additive manufacturing of multifunctional components

Lead Research Organisation: University of Ulster
Department Name: School of Engineering


The aim of this proposal is to develop novel high performance, nanocomposite feed materials for Additive Manufacturing (AM). The field of AM, also known also as 3D Printing, has expanded significantly over the last couple of decades across virtually all-industrial sectors due a number of key advantages that traditional manufacturing just cannot offer. These include mass customisation, geometrical complexity, tool-less manufacture and sustainable manufacturing. Among the companies using AM are GE (medical devices, and home appliance parts), Lockheed Martin and Boeing (aerospace and defense), Invisalign (dental devices) and LUXeXcel (lenses for light-emitting diodes, or LEDs). The worldwide revenue from 3D printing is expected to grow from $3.07 billion in 2013 to $12.8 billion by 2018, and exceed $21 billion by 2020, and has a potential of generating an economic impact of $230 billion to $550 billion per year by 2025.

While the forecast for AM products is huge this will only be achieved if we can actually manufacture parts with the desired properties. The majority of polymeric AM research is however focused on low glass transition temperature (Tg) polymers such as Polyamide 11, 12 , Polycarbonate and Poly Lactic acid (PLA), due to their good processing characteristics (rheological, thermal and crystallization). For advanced, high value applications in aerospace, telecommunication and defense where harsh environmental conditions often exist (and in some key biomedical application) these low Tg polymers for AM are not acceptable so there is a real need to develop materials for these applications. Whilst a sufficiently high Tg polymer could offer the required high performance, nanocomposites with increased functionalities and potential combinations of properties such as high stiffness, strength, wear and specific thermal, electrical and microwave response can really transform the performance of AM components. The ability to manipulate other properties, such as rheological and thermal performance, by the addition of nanoparticles offers further potential advantages in terms of processing characteristics.

This proposal will examine the potential of inorganic fullerene-like (IF) tungsten disulfide (WS2) or IF-WS2 as nanofillers for high value, PAEK (Poly Aryl Ether Ketone) based products made via the AM processes of Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) and Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM). The incorporation of IF particles has been shown to be efficient for improving thermal, mechanical and tribological properties of various thermoplastic polymers, such as polypropylene, nylon-6, poly(phenylene sulfide), poly(ether ether ketone). These nanocomposites were fabricated by simple melt-processing routes without the need for modifiers or surfactants . IF-WS2 have been proven to exhibit extremely high tribological performance in composites to reduce wear and coefficient of friction .These characteristics will also have important processability benefits for AM processes as will their dispersion characteristics which are superior to 1D and 2D nanoparticles. They are also the best shock absorbing cage structures known to mankind. Importantly, they are non-toxic, and thermally stable.

We will examine the two main AM processes for producing parts with engineering properties, Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) in which a laser is used to melt and sinter powdered polymer into the final part and Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) in which a polymer filament is melted in a heated nozzle and deposited in the required pattern to form the part.
Description Work to date has shown that the inclusion of Inorganic Fullerene Tungsten Sulphide (IF-WS2) nanoparticles to PEEK modifies the rheology and mechanical properties such that processability by fused deposition modelling is improved and mechanical/thermal performance is also improved. A reduction in melt viscosity of 25%, and a simultaneous increase in storage modulus, crystallization and degradation temperature of about 60%, 53% and 100 °C is found with addition of 2wt% IF-WS2 to PEEK. New work with ZnO tetrapods has potential to enhance mechanical properties of these 3DP nanocomposites further.
Exploitation Route On possible use of this new material is for an aerospace bearing. Other uses include low cost, 3D printed tooling inserts for injection moulding. Potential applications in medical devices/implants.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology

Description Bombardier 
Organisation Short Brothers Plc
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Bushing component using new composite materials
Collaborator Contribution Guide on design, performance assessment etc on prototype component.
Impact New project and new collaboration just started.
Start Year 2016
Description Development of novel materials for AM to manufacture bushing 
Organisation Cytec Industries
Department R&D
Country United States 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Development of new material to make a high performance bushing via additive manufacturing
Collaborator Contribution Provision of drawings for part, attending meetings
Impact New material produced. Under test. Publication in draft form.
Start Year 2016
Description Victrex 
Organisation Victrex
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Develop new composite to enhance their production line.
Collaborator Contribution Provide expensive PEEK raw materials for experiments in our project.
Impact Not yet available because of new project.
Start Year 2016