Process analysis and material behavior of thermoplastic elastomers throughout the laser sintering processing chain

Ziegelmeier, Stefan (2016) Process analysis and material behavior of thermoplastic elastomers throughout the laser sintering processing chain. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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Laser sintering (LS), an additive manufacturing (AM) technology, allows for the production of 3-dimensional parts by fusing together successive layers of polymer powder without the need for tooling. Its potential and applicability, however, is still constrained due to the limited repertoire of materials available and the lack of detail in understanding both the important process-material interactions and consequently the requirements for the development of new materials. Past research has mainly focused on polyamide 12 (PA12) as the standard material, hence most of the empirically grown or theoretical, often idealized, process models are based on this polymer. As a result, it was shown that there are strong interactions between the material and the process leading to an undesired deviation of part properties. Thermoplastic elastomers (TPEs) for LS have gained more and more popularity for the production of, for example flexible parts in the recent past but they are a group of polymers that is neither well studied nor understood regarding their use in LS. Therefore, this PhD investigation has focused on TPEs in order to reveal their process specifics throughout the processing chain in LS.

As the properties of parts manufactured by LS are, amongst others, influenced by the packing and flow efficiencies of the powders, the bulk (static) and flow (dynamic) characteristics of the observed TPEs were examined on the powder scale as well as their effects on the process and parts. The resulting part properties were evaluated in terms of their tensile properties, surface roughness and density. In contrast to previous studies which have rarely taken into account the characteristics of the un-sintered particles, this work provided a novel approach quantifying and describing the interconnection between the powder characteristics as well as its performance and the part properties, thus providing valuable input on future material design.

As mentioned before, for typical semi-crystalline thermoplastics such as PA12, different idealized process models describing the Pre-Process specifics exist, but they might not necessarily be applicable for thermoplastic elastomers with significantly different thermal characteristics. Consequently, the important interactions during processing of TPEs have been studied by high speed and high resolution thermography helping to indicate the most important material properties in combination with calorimetric analysis. The resulting understanding of crystallization and melting behaviour helped to derive a design of experiments revealing the possible range for the process management in terms of temperature control as well as energy input and the resulting part properties.

Moreover, it is known that polymers used in LS change their intrinsic properties due to processing conditions that are close to the crystalline melting temperature. As a result, within this PhD investigation the ageing behaviour of TPEs was studied. Both the powder and the sintered parts were examined for chemical and physical ageing effects. The results showed that the materials observed could be used without refreshing throughout the applied ageing cycles, however, changes in the processing behaviour as well as in the parts’ mechanical properties were evident. These changes were due to the differing ageing states of the LS-powder showing an increase in the particle size affecting the bulk materials packing density. In the literature, modifications in the rheological properties due to thermal loads during LS are already known on basis of PA12. It was shown that they tend to experience an increase in molecular weight with increasing processing cycles. In this work it was found that TPEs exhibit the exact opposite trend in a slight decrease of molecular weight likely to reduce the mechanical strength of tensile specimens.

By using novel process adapted methods in order to reveal vital interactions of TPE powders for LS, this thesis makes a significant contribution to an AM database. In addition, the comprehensive observation and applications of these methods over the whole processing chain helped expanding the understanding of important requirements for the development of new polymers for LS and builds a substantial basis for future work and quality assurance.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Hague, Richard J.
Tuck, Christopher J.
Goodridge, Ruth D.
Keywords: Laser Sintering, Polyurethane, polymer ageing, powders
Subjects: T Technology > TN Mining engineering. Metallurgy
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Engineering
Item ID: 31532
Depositing User: Ziegelmeier, Stefan
Date Deposited: 20 Jan 2017 15:15
Last Modified: 20 Mar 2017 04:19

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