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FAMU-FSU professor advances composite 3D printing

Tarik Dickens is fine-tuning the tools used in 3D printing to create better, stronger materials for a wide variety of applications

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According to Florida State University, researchers inside Tarik Dickens’ lab at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering (the joint college of engineering of Florida A&M University and Florida State University) are fine-tuning the tools used in 3D printing to create better and stronger composite materials for a wide variety of applications.

“We’re about to cross the threshold of the first quarter of the 21st century, and we’re going to need a lot more personalized products and structures and the ability to be able to create structure and devices on the fly,” said Dickens. “It’s not going to be like the previous 60 years of industrialized research where you’re experimenting with something for multiple years. You need to be able to have an initial idea of something and then have the prototype and the end product in one.”

Dickens started his research career developing multifunctional composite materials, which are made of two or more substances combined to create a new material with added functionality. Examples range from simple combinations, such as reinforced concrete or plywood, to state-of-the-art ceramic composites used in jet engines. By combining multiple substances in novel ways, scientists can create new materials with specially selected properties of interest.

AM and digital manufacturing offer new ways to develop composite materials, which is now the focus of Dickens’ and his FAMU-FSU team’s research. For example, some 3D printed plastics have small pieces of metal inside. Dickens developed a small magnetic device that can rotate nanoparticles within fluid suspensions during 3D printing to adjust properties such as strength – research that is part of the National Science Foundation’s Centers of Research Excellence in Science and Technology Center program. His group has a patent on this device setup and is working on other assisted-printing apparatuses.

“The goal is to make what we call multimaterial and multifunctional structures commonplace in additive processing,” said Dickens. “These multifunctional structures have different applications and endpoints. For these materials, it was about embedding some dielectric properties and capabilities to enable electromagnetic shielding and interference. They also can have structural applications to actually strengthen the structure that you’re trying to create.”

A paper by Tarik Dickens, graduate student Abdullah Al Noman, and postdoctoral researcher Balaji Krishna Kumar, published last year in Virtual and Physical Prototyping, examined the state of AM and the emerging technique of field-assisted AM, which uses things like magnets, acoustics, or electricity to fine-tune printing.

By using magnetic nanomaterial combined with a nonmagnetic material, printers can create a composite with fibers oriented in a certain direction – allowing for a final product with specific strength properties. The research team examined different combinations of wire or powder as printing material, finding the ratio that yielded maximum strength and flexibility.

“What if you could wake up every morning and have a new car?” said Dickens. “I’m a car lover. I would love to wake up and drive a Ferrari one day and a Maserati the next. In that sense, one future direction for additive manufacturing is like the computer itself. We now have computers in every household. If you had a 3D printer in every household, that would be like technology out of Star Trek.”

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Edward Wakefield

Edward is a freelance writer and additive manufacturing enthusiast looking to make AM more accessible and understandable.

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