New plastic coating solution enhances functionality of 3D printed parts

A research team from the University of Nottingham, has developed a new coating for plastic particles that would increase the functionality of 3D printed parts.

To do so, they used supercritical carbon dioxide to create an efficient, effective, and clean process to coat PA-12 polymer particles used in a 3D printing process. The experiment shows that the new coatings can add color and anti-mold and fungal properties to the 3D printing process.

Credit: University of Nottingham

One of the most common commercial 3D printing techniques is powder bed fusion or laser sintering. This technique can process polyamide-12 (PA12), a strong plastic that is often used to print complex and detailed parts, commonly deployed in the automotive or aerospace industries.

Given the fact that AM is limited by the materials and palette of available properties that limit the overall application space, this new process can provide an easy route to the development of a wide range of material capabilities without compromising processability.

Two key capabilities the new process can deliver are the addition of coatings for color and anti-fungal and anti-mold properties. Currently, the only options for manufacturers are grey or white powders and color is added afterward. Now, the team has created a range of colored polymers that coat the PA-12 particles.

There are a few challenges facing the 3D printing industry due to limitations on the functionality of the polymers used. To tackle some of these challenges we have created a simple but effective approach to adding functionality by coating the particles. We’ve designed the colored shell polymer so that it matches the mechanical and thermal properties of the printing polymer. Most importantly we’ve demonstrated this with the key polymer (PA-12) that is ubiquitous to the industry. Our new colored polymeric powders work perfectly in the existing commercially deployed machines”, Professor Steve Howdle, Head of the School of Chemistry said.

Currently, objects made using PA-12 can’t be used in moist environments due to the growth of mold and fungi. The new shell coating can also be used to develop coatings that prevent this from happening, opening up new possibilities for the use of 3D-printed objects in new areas.

Professor Howdle adds: “A key benefit of this process is that it can easily be incorporated into current commercial 3D printing processes and this could be potentially transformative for the industry in widening scope by introducing new functionality, simplifying processes and importantly achieving all of this sustainably.”

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