Scholarly article on topic 'Polymer Blends for Selective Laser Sintering: Material and Process Requirements'

Polymer Blends for Selective Laser Sintering: Material and Process Requirements Academic research paper on "Materials engineering"

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Physics Procedia
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{"Selective laser sintering" / "Blend technology" / "Polymer blend" / PP/PA12}

Abstract of research paper on Materials engineering, author of scientific article — Dietmar Drummer, Katrin Wudy, Florian Kühnlein, Maximilian Drexler

Abstract If material systems, consisting of at least two different components, are processed by powder- and beam-based additive manufacturing techniques, this could allow manufacturing of products with graded and tailored properties. To provide for process-secure production, the employed materials need to fulfil certain requirements. This article looks into the manufacturing and analysis of components made from polymer blends by means of powder- and beam- based additive manufacturing techniques. The test specimens were generated at varied laser power and consist of an immiscible PP/PA12 blend. Their thermal and mechanical properties were examined, in addition to their morphologies. The investigations finally showed that a polymer blend is generally suitable as a material for additive manufacturing.

Academic research paper on topic "Polymer Blends for Selective Laser Sintering: Material and Process Requirements"



LANE 2012

Polymer Blends for Selective Laser Sintering: Material and Process Requirements

Dietmar Drummer , Katrin Wudy*, Florian Kühnlein, Maximilian Drexler

Institute of Polymer Technology (LKT), Am Weichselgarten 9, 91058 Erlangen, Germany


If material systems, consisting of at least two different components, are processed by powder- and beam-based additive manufacturing techniques, this could allow manufacturing of products with graded and tailored properties. To provide for process-secure production, the employed materials need to fulfil certain requirements. This article looks into the manufacturing and analysis of components made from polymer blends by means of powder- and beam-based additive manufacturing techniques. The test specimens were generated at varied laser power and consist of an immiscible PP/PA12 blend. Their thermal and mechanical properties were examined, in addition to their morphologies. The investigations finally showed that a polymer blend is generally suitable as a material for additive manufacturing.

© 2012PublishedbyElsevierB.V. Selection and/or review under responsibility of Bayerisches Laserzentram GmbH Keywords: Selective laser sintering; Blend technology; Polymer blend; PP/PA12

1. Introduction

Concerning individualization, the requirements posed to products have increased in recent years. The trend towards individualized serial products steps up the need for the respective manufacturing techniques to be more and more flexible. Conventional techniques of serial production, such as injection moulding, are unable to fully meet the requirements of this trend. Additive manufacturing techniques generate components directly from a CAD data set while requiring no specific mould. This is how, as opposed to conventional techniques, they comply with these increased demands to processing technology. [1]

What is more, products designed for consumer application, in particular, need to fulfil constantly increasing requirements, while product durations are reduced. The necessary materials with their customized properties can be obtained from the synthesis of new monomers or, if polymers are combined

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +49-9131- 8529717 ; fax: +49-9131-8529709 . E-mail address: .

Available online at www.sciencedirect.cor

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Physics Procedia 39 (2012) 509 - 517

1875-3892 © 2012 Published by Elsevier B.V. Selection and/or review under responsibility of Bayerisches Laserzentrum GmbH doi: 10.1016/j.phpro.2012.10.067

to form new polymer-polymer systems. Because developing new polymer materials is very demanding and expensive, blend technology, i.e. mixing existing polymer materials, is in general plastic industry increasingly at the focus of attention. [2]

Additive manufacturing techniques are well established in prototype construction. Recently a trend reveales towards the rapid manufacturing of engineering components [3]. With a variety of additive manufacturing techniques available, some of them have the potential to generate serial products with reproducible properties. Selective laser sintering (SLS) of powder materials shows the highest potential for this field of application [4]. If components made by additive manufacturing are due to be applied in serial production, their achievable properties play a major part. These properties are determined by the processed materials, mainly. The range of materials commercially available at present for selective laser sintering merely includes semi-crystalline thermoplastics such as polyamide 12 (e.g. PA2200, EOS GmbH) and polyetheretherketone (e.g. PEEK HP-3, EOS GmbH). Enhancing the scope of applicable materials by, e.g., blend systems, will thus support innovation significantly.

The presented investigations are concerned with blend systems with respect of their general suitabilities for powder- and beam-based additive manufacturing techniques. An actual mixture of two polymers was employed to investigate the feasibility of the process and the impact of a major process parameter, i.e. laser power, was analysed as to its effect on the material properties resulting.

2. Process Requirements

The production process determines certain requirements the blend material has to fulfil. With selective laser sintering, melt and powder both exist over the entire period of building. To achieve this two-phase mixture area, the building chamber is pre-heated to just below the melting point of the material, according to the model of quasi-isothermal laser sintering [5]. It is essential for the plastics' crystallization temperature here, to be clearly below the melting point. [6]

Fig. 1. Building chamber temperature of a blend consist of two semi-crystalline thermoplastics determined from DSC data

If polymer blends consist of semi-crystalline thermoplastics, the two materials' ranges of building chamber temperatures must fit in part to enable selective laser sintering, see Figure 1. If this temperature range was exceeded for one of the blend partners, the material would melt in an uncontrolled way, whereas, if temperature fell below this point, one phase would start to crystallize, thus leading to curling, i.e. warpage due to residual stress, in the molten layer.

3. Material

For the following investigations, a polymer blend is used, composed of 80 weight% of polypropylene (PP) and 20 weight% of polyamide 12 (PA12). Table 1 presents all materials, suppliers, and trademarks employed. The powder compound is mixed in a tumble mixer. To make sure the polymer particles are homogeneously mixed, the powder mixture remains in a rotating blender for 30 minutes, at 30 rpm revolution speed.

Table 1. Examined materials, including their suppliers and trademarks

Polymer Share [wt-%] Supplier Trademark

Polypropylene (PP) 80 DuPont Polymer Powders Coathylene PD0580

Polyamide 12 (PA12) 20 EOS GmbH PA2200

4. Experiments

The processing temperature is estimated according to the model of quasi-isothermal laser sintering starting from the basic materials' differential scanning calorimetry (DSC) curves. The DSC measurements are conducted with a Perkin Elmer at a scan rate of 10 K/min under nitrogen atmosphere. The mass of the test specimen is approximately 10 mg in all investigations.

To enable subsequent characterization of the generated component, so-called Campus tensile bars are produced by selective laser sintering (supplier: DTM, equipment: Sinterstation 200 type) following the DIN EN ISO 3167 (Type A) standard. Layer thickness is 100 ^m, scanning speed 1257 mm/s and powder application speed is 80 mm/s. Laser power varies between 6 W, 7 W, 8 W and 9 W.

Melting and cooling behaviour of the material of the components is determined by analogy with the thermal analysis of the basic powder material as was conducted under issue 4.1.

Phase morphologies and connection between the layers are analysed for selected test specimens on microscopic images of microtome cross-sections of 10 ^m thickness. An Axiolan type microscope by Zeiss serves to scrutinize the specimens at polarized light and in a bright field at 2.5 and 40x magnification.

On a scanning electron microscope (Ultra Plus type, supplier: Zeiss), the test specimens are examined in order to learn about the adhesion behaviour of the dispersed phase in the polymer matrix. For this purpose, a fracture surface is produced under liquid nitrogen on a sintered campus tensile bar.

The test specimens' mechanical properties are determined in tensile tests at 5 mm/min test speed, in accordance with DIN EN ISO 527-1. The 5 test specimens are examined as to their modules of elasticity, maximum stress and resulting tensile stress at break.

4. Results and Discussion

4.1. Material Characterization

Prior to processing by SLS, the range of temperatures where the polymer blend is in a two-phase mixture area must be determined. In order to estimate this range of temperatures for PP/PA12 blends, PP and PA12 powders are submitted to DSC measurements. It is essential that the construction process takes place within the processing window presented in Figure 2, because, if temperature rises above this limit, the PP phase will start to melt, or, if temperature falls below this point, the PA12 phase will start to show crystallization effects. This leads to the following condition for the blend examined:

T <T <T

1K ,pa12 1B — 1M ,PP

Tk,pai2 stands for the crystallization temperature of the PA12, TB is the temperature of the building chamber, and TM,PP represents the melting point of the PP.

temperature |

Fig. 2. Determination of the range of building chamber temperatures for a PP/PA12 blend by means of DSC

4.2. Processing Experiments

The findings obtained from the DSC investigations point to the temperature that should be chosen for the building chamber, in an ideal case. As opposed to real manufacturing process, these analyses assume ideal conditions of temperature control. This is why, due to measuring tolerances for the production plant, the temperature obtained must be adjusted prior to production, by using the so-called "Glacing" method [7]. With this method, the building chamber temperature is constantly stepped up during the construction process, until cracks are produced in the powder cake. The real building chamber temperature thus determined was 158°C, which is above the onset of crystalline melting point determined from the DSC data. The processing experiments have shown that polymer blends are generally suited for processing by selective laser sintering.

4.3. Component Characterization

The melting and crystallization behaviour of the sintered test specimens is analyzed by means of caloric investigation, following the building process. Figure 3 (left) shows first heating of the PP/PA12 blends produced, and of the PA12 and PP powders. Because PP and PA12 are immiscible, two melting peaks are obtained. The two basic materials' crystalline melting peaks are reflected in the blend materials at similar temperatures. The blend material's melting peak shifts towards higher temperatures for the PP, if compared to the powder. Considering the fact that crystallization and melt behaviours of the two components inter-affect each other, it is difficult, however, to evaluate the melt peaks [8].

In the cooling phases of the heterogeneous polymer-polymer systems, crystallization peaks are visible for the PA12 component, as well as the PP component, see Figure 3 (right). While the crystallization temperature of the PA12 phase almost equals that of the pure PA12 material, the crystallization peaks in blend and powder differ with PP. The crystallization peak of the PP component is at approximately 119 °C, whereas, for the pure material, crystallization temperature is 123 °C. The interaction between blend components' crystallization behaviours are particularly striking here. Variations in energy input do not imply changes in crystallization temperatures in materials' cooling curves.

80 100 120 140 !60 180 200 80 (00 120 140 160 180 200

temperature [°C] temperature [°CI

Fig. 3. (a) melting and (b) crystallization behaviours of the pure materials and of the blends produced

If mechanically loaded components are to be produced by additive manufacturing, good connection between the individual layers is crucial. To evaluate the connections between the layers, and to analyse the formation of morphologies in the heterogeneous polymer-polymer blends, thin sections are cut, which are then submitted to examination by transmitted light microscopy in a bright field and at polarized light.

Fig. 4. Transmitted light microscopic images of a PP/PA12 blend (a) bright field, laser power 6 W; (b) bright field, laser power 9 W; (c) polarized light, laser power 6 W; (d) polarized light, laser power 9 W

Figure 4 presents microscopic images of the produced specimens, with typical sintering effects, i.e. the radius formed at the lower corners, and the powder adhering to the edges. The laser power parameter was stepped up from left to right from 6 W to 9 W. The images obtained from transmitted light microscopy at polarized light (figures 4c and 4d) shows that, as energy input is increased, layer connection can be significantly improved. The single layers in the test specimens produced at 6 W laser power can clearly be distinguished, which points to insufficient connection between layers. However, the structure of the specimen generated with a higher energy input is more homogeneous, with fewer pores. Generally speaking, increased energy input can increase layer connection. Figure 4 only shows this trend for the 6 W and 9 W specimens, but this tendency is in fact visible in all test specimens produced.

Microscopic images taken in a bright field (Figures 4a and b) show the dispersion of the PA12 phase within the PP matrix. As a rule, unfilled polymers cannot be distinguished by transmitted light microscopy in a bright field. Light cannot transmit those particles that look black in the bright field, though. One may assume that these PA 12 particles include foreign particles, possibly a flow additive, added by the producer of the material. The laser power has no effect on the distribution of the PA12 phase in the matrix material, which is homogeneous in all test specimens examined, see Figures 4a and 4b.

Fig. 5. Transmitted light microscopic image of PP/PA12 blends, laser power 9 W (a) bright field; (b) polarized light

For a better presentation of the blend partners' spherulitic structure, refer to Figure 5. The dispersed PA12 phase shows a structure of very fine spherulites, whereas the PP matrix material has larger spherulites. Though this trend is shown for one specimen (PP/PA12, laser power 9 W), the same tendency exists in all test specimens manufactured. Soiling and foreign substances play a major part in formation of spherulites by acting as crystallisation nucleuses [8]. With the blends examined, the foreign particles in the PA12 serve as crystallisation nucleuses, which lead to the fine spherulitic structure in the PA12.

Fig. 6. Scanning electron microscopic images of different magnifications (a) and (c) laser power 6 W; (b) and (d) laser power 6 W

Adhesion between the single phases of the PP/PA12 blend is analyzed on cryroscopic fracture surfaces by means of scanning electron microscopic images, see Figure 6. The PA12 particles are insufficiently connected to the PP matrix material, which is why particles break away from the fracture surface, independent of the laser input during sintering, see Figures 6a and 6c. However, scrutinizing more closely the interface between a PA12 particle and the PP matrix, there is in fact a difference in phase adhesion, subject to the energy input. Higher laser power tends to generate better adhesion between dispersed component and surrounding material (Figures 6c and 6d).

If a material system is to be applied for mechanically loaded components, its mechanical characteristics are the major criterion. These properties are determined in accordance with DIN EN ISO 527-1 for the PP/PA blends. The sintered specimens show no plastic deformation, because the component fails prior to stretching. It is therefore impossible to obtain information on yield stress and elongation. In addition, the sintered specimens' real cross-sections cannot be determined, because the specimens are

porous. The indicated values of stress therefore refer to the cross-section of an ideally dense tensile test specimen.

6 7 8 9 PA 12 PP PP/PAÍ2

laser power |W] Materials

Fig. 7. Mechanical properties of components made of PP/PA12 blends (left), PP and PA12 (right) applied in selective laser sintering

It was possible to achieve 1760 N/mm2 E-modulus, 11 N/mm2 tensile stress, and 1 % fracture strain in specimens made at 6 W laser power, see Figure 7. As compared to the mechanical characteristics of the pure polymers, these mechanical characteristics are lower with blends, see Figure 7 (right). A tensile test specimen from PP, which was produced under comparable conditions (laser power 6 W, layer thickness 0.1 mm, building chamber temperature 160 °C), showed 29 N/mm2 tensile stress and 4 % fracture strain in the tensile tests. The heterogeneous two phase mixing area, and the PA12 particles insufficiently adhering to the matrix act as flaws in the component. This reduces the load-bearing cross-section, leading to failure of the specimen at low stress. So-called compatibilizers, e.g. maleic anhydride grafted on polypropylene, may reduce this downside. The mechanical properties reveal no trend in relation to energy input, see Figure 7 (left). The low values of tensile stress and fracture strain in the 8 W specimen are probably due to a large flaw or missing connection between layers within the component.

5. Summary

The research project is aimed at generating and analyzing components produced from polymer blends by additive manufacturing. For this purpose, test specimens consisting of PP (80 %) and PA12 (20 %) were produced at varied laser power, and investigated with respect of thermal and mechanical properties, as well as their morphologies.

The research revealed the feasibility of manufacturing blends by selective laser sintering. Thermal analysis showed the range of temperature where the polymer blend, in theory, exists in a two-phase mixing area. Thermal analysis of the PP/PA12 test specimens showed two separate peaks independent of the power input. Transmitted light microscopic images at a bright field were combined to those taken at polarized light, which serves to investigate polymer blend's phase morphology. Confirmation was obtained that the two components do not segregate during mixing or manufacturing, because the PA12 phase was very homogenously dispersed in the PP matrix. The relationship between energy input and connection between layers became clear from the transmitted light microscopic images taken at polarized light. The fracture surfaces were analyzed with a scanning electron microscope. This way, adhesion between PA12 particles and PP matrix becomes easily visible. All test specimens showed poor adhesion of the dispersed phase, which explains the poor mechanical properties determined in the tensile tests.

The investigations showed that, generally speaking, polymer blends can be processed by powder- and beam-based additive manufacturing techniques such as selective laser sintering. Joining the two techniques means toolless production of individualized products with properties tailored to the respective requirements. While connection between the single phases is insufficient, future research is due to look into the impact compatibilizers may have on the morphology of the heterogeneous phase mixture. Furthermore a systematic material choice will lead to manufacture components with tailor-made properties. Moreover, varying the shares of the two components, and then analyzing the two-phase mixing area, may generate further information on the material system's suitability for sintering.


The authors would like to extend their thanks to the German Research Association (DFG) for funding the Collaborative Research Centre 814. This support has enabled the investigations in the area of additive manufacturing which have led to the findings presented in this article.


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