Polymer Discovery Gives 3D-printed Sand Super Strength

Research activity into 3D printing never seems to end, with an almost constant stream of new techniques and improvements upon old ones hitting the news practically daily. This time, the focus is on a technique we’ve not covered so much, namely binder jetting additive manufacturing (BJAM for short, catchy huh?) Specifically the team from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, who have been exploring the use of so-called hyperbranched Polyethyleneimine (PEI) as a binder for jetting onto plain old foundry silica sand (nature, free access.)

Roll, spray, bake. Simples.

The PEI binder was mixed with a 75:25 mix of water and 1-propanol (not to be mixed up with 2-propanol aka isopropanol) to get the correct viscosity for jetting with a piezoelectric print head and the correct surface tension to allow adequate powder bed penetration, giving optimal binding efficiency. The team reported a two-fold increase in strength over previous jetting techniques, however, the real news is what they did next; by infusing the printed part (known as the green part) with common old ethyl cyanoacrylate (ECA, or super glue to us) the structural strength of the print increased a further eight times due to the reaction between the binder and the ECA infiltrate.

To further bestow the virtues of the PEI binder/ECA mix, it turns out to be water-soluble, at least for a couple of days, so can be used to make complex form washout tooling — internal supports that can be washed away. After a few days, the curing process is complete, resulting in a structure that is reportedly stronger than concrete.  Reinforce this with carbon fiber, and boy do you have a tough building material!

Not bad for some pretty common materials and a simple printing process.

We covered a similar binder jetting process for using sawdust a little while ago, and a neat way of printing with metal powder by carrying it in a stream of argon and cooking it with a laser, but there is an opening for a DIY effort to get in on the binder jetting game.

Thanks [Victor] for the tip!