Welding of 3-D Printed Carbon Nanotube-Polymer Composites

Composites Today - From aerospace and defense to digital dentistry and medical devices, 3-D printed parts are used in a variety of industries. Currently, 3-D printed parts are very fragile and traditionally used in the prototyping phase of materials or as a toy for display. A doctoral student in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Texas A&M University has pioneered a countermeasure to transform the landscape of 3-D printing today.

When Sweeney started his doctorate, he was working with Green in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Texas Tech University. Green had been collaborating with Dr. Mohammad Saed, assistant professor in the electrical and computer engineering department at Texas Tech, on a project to detect carbon nanotubes using microwaves. The trio crafted an idea to use carbon nanotubes in 3-D printed parts, coupled with microwave energy to weld the layers of parts together.

"The basic idea is that a 3-D part cannot simply be stuck into an oven to weld it together because it is plastic and will melt," Sweeney said. "We realized that we needed to borrow from the concepts that are traditionally used for welding parts together where you'd use a point source of heat, like a torch or a TIG welder to join the interface of the parts together. You're not melting the entire part, just putting the heat where you need it."

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