3D Printed Parts Strengthened with Carbon Nanotube
The Engineer posted on June 02, 2014 | 6330 views

A Texas Tech University doctoral candidate was brainstorming research ideas at Texas Tech in August 2013 when he came across a topic that would influence his tenure as a Red Raider.

Flash forward to Feb. 2014 and Brandon Sweeney is standing in front of colleagues and peers presenting those same ideas at TEDxTexasTechUniversity.

“The TEDx event at Texas Tech was a surreal opportunity to share the exciting results of my research with a wide audience,” said Sweeney, a chemical engineering doctoral candidate from Baltimore, Md.

He currently is researching techniques to improve the strength of 3D printed parts by incorporating carbon nanotubes in the plastic printer filaments and by exposing printed parts to microwave energy.

Sweeney, who worked at the Army Research Labs after he graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Material Science and Engineering, originally had the idea of using carbon nanotubes in 3D printed parts while working at the labs.

When Sweeney met his advisor, Micah Green, associate professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering, the two discussed the extreme thermal responses of carbon nanotubes upon exposure to microwave irradiation, leading to his proposed research.

“We could use this unique property of carbon nanotubes to thermally bond all layers of a 3D printed object together,” he said.

3D printing has helped remove barriers between design and production. With regular printing, ink is deposited onto a flat surface to recreate text or images. In 3D printing, instead of ink, solid materials such as plastics, metals, ceramics and even food can be used to build up layers of a physical object that was digitally designed on a computer.

“If you can design or download a digital object, you can produce it with a 3D printer, no machine shop skills required,” Sweeney said.  “This also means that items can be customized for individual needs. You are no longer limited to mass produced deigns for a ‘one size fits all’ generation.”

With 3D printing, manufacturing will shift from centralized outsourced facilities to on demand and in-home factories, which will produce exactly what is needed, when it is needed.

Through Texas Tech’s Office of Technology Commercialization, Sweeney, Green, and Mohammed Saed, professor of electrical engineering, secured intellectual property rights to the new technology.

“More than anything else, my Christian faith influenced me to seek out and proclaim scientific truths God designed into our wonderfully precise universe,” Sweeney said. “My ultimate goal as a Christian engineer is to implement scientific principles into practical solutions that positively affect the lives of those around me.”

Source: Texas Tech University

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