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Brightlands Materials Center: 3D Printed Self-Sensing Composite Fiber Parts

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Dutch research and development center Brightlands Materials Center, founded in 2015 by TNO and Province of Limburg, is focused on the improvement of 3D printed polymeric materials. Now, it’s introducing 3D printed composite parts that have self-sensing functionality, which means they have the unique ability to sense their own condition; the material basically acts as a sensor.

The company is using Composite Fiber Co-extrusion additive manufacturing technology by Anisoprint to fabricate composite parts out of continuous fiber so that they have this self sensing capability. This will allow the 3D printed parts to effectively monitor and support damage detection in important structures in the healthcare, construction, and aerospace industries.

“Such composites can be made by traditional technologies but with additive manufacturing, it’s easier and more precise,” Nadezhda Kuzmenko, Head of Marketing for Anisoprint, told 3DPrint.com. “Also, this invention makes 3d printing itself more precise since self-sensing material helps understand use circumstances, for example, which loads the part must withstand.”

Anisoprinted self-sensing bending beam

Polymer-matrix composite materials with continuous carbon fiber have been proven to have this functionality due to, as Anisoprint explains in a press release, “measurable changes in electrical resistance of the continuous fibers.” Typical self-sensing materials are made with composite manufacturing methods that require special equipment and many steps to complete the process – 3D printing makes this more efficient.

3D printing with continuous fibers allows the carbon fibers to be very accurately oriented and positioned at specific locations inside a part. These fibers are an important part of the overall structure, meaning that the material “sensors” are right where they need to be. A range of sensors throughout the product can even be achieved by using many of these fibers.

Anisoprint knows a lot about this, having invented a technology called anisoprinting that uses its continuous carbon fiber 3D printing to design and fabricate optimal composite structures.

Sometimes, it takes a few iterations to find the correct parameters when using additive manufacturing to build a part, though definitely not as many as conventional methods of fabrication usually require. What’s handy about 3D printed self-sensing composites is that they can actually collect information about real life usage, which can help reduce the number of design iterations used. During testing, a 3D printed self-sensing part will can detect the forces and dynamics that the product will need to be able to withstand in real use cases, which helps engineers and designers better understand how the part should be made.

Sensing relation force and resistance

Brightlands monitored the deformation of a 3D printed scale model pedestrian composite bridge, and a simple bending beam, to prove the self-sensing ability of the composite material. The parts were printed on the Anisoprint Composer A4 3D printer, which provides freedom in the layout of the carbon fibers and lets users pick any thermoplastic polymer material as a matrix. This allows the carbon fiber to stick out of the part and make connections to monitoring electronic hardware, enabling it to properly act as a sensor.

Pushing the bridge, the deformation of the structure as a function of the applied load is monitored

Products made with 3D printed self-sensing composite materials like these could be of incredible importance in the proper construction of bridges, structural health monitoring in airplanes, and even as a diagnosis tool in healthcare. For example, if a 3D printed prosthetic or orthotic is made with a self-sensing material, it could register important information about the patient’s movement patterns and stress distribution, allowing doctors to provide a more optimal healing journey.

Discuss this story and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts in the Facebook comments below.

(Images provided by Anisoprint)

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