AM ResearchColor 3D Printing

New plastic coating improves functionality of 3D printed parts

Researchers from the University of Nottingham have used supercritical carbon dioxide to create an efficient, effective, and clean process to coat PA-12 polymer particles

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According to Nottingham University, scientists and engineers have developed a new coating for plastic particles that are used in 3D printing, which significantly increases their functionality and opens up new possibilities for commercial application. Researchers from the University of Nottingham’s School of Chemistry and Faculty of Engineering have 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 researchers have demonstrated that the new plastic coatings can add color, and anti-mould and anti-fungal properties to the printing process. The research has been published in Nature Communications.

Polyamide-12 (PA12) is a strong plastic that is often is often used in the 3D printing industry to print complex and detailed parts, commonly deployed in the automotive or aerospace industries.

“The real benefit of 3D printing or additive manufacturing is in the design and production of bespoke and unique objects, but its limitations are in the materials and palette of available properties that limit the overall application space. This new process provides an easy route to the development of a wide range of material capabilities without compromising processability,” said Professor Christopher Tuck, Professor of Materials Engineering in the Centre for Additive Manufacturing in the Faculty of Engineering.

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 when it comes to PBF are grey or white powders, with color 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,” said Professor Steve Howdle, Head of the School of Chemistry.

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.

“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,” said Professor Howdle.

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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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