AMS Spring 2023

Dymax and Mechnano Use Carbon Nanotube Technology for 3D Printing Materials


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Just days after Arizona-based startup Mechnano presented a pioneering new way to use carbon nanotubes (CNTs) in additive manufacturing (AM) materials, the company announced it was also teaming up with Dymax Oligomers and Coatings to improve existing material properties in UV polymers with its proprietary CNT technology, called MechT. The partnership will focus on developing UV-curable dispersions and masterbatches of Mechnano’s discrete, functionalized CNTs for UV applications, initially centered around 3D printing applications. As part of the collaboration, they have already unveiled a new additive called MechT E35A, which can be used in rigid, high tensile strength 3D printing resins to provide conductivity and decreased surface resistivity to the printed part.

After years in stealth mode, Mechnano presented its breakthrough technology during the Additive Manufacturing Users Group (AMUG) Conference in Orlando, Florida. It took years of research and development before the scientists at Mechnano were ready to share what they considered a “world-changing discovery” with 3D printing enthusiasts. The Mechnano team asserts that they have “cracked the code” to harness the power of CNT technology, which has challenged scientists worldwide for 30 years. Now, they are using their patented discoveries to revolutionize the already revolutionary industry of AM.

“By focusing on the nanoscale, or the molecular level, we are able to make exponential improvements in AM materials at the macro-level,” described Mechnano’s founder and CEO Steven Lowder. “We’re thrilled to share how these advances bring greatly increased mechanical properties. In plastics, we’re already adding electrical properties without degrading the mechanical properties. Soon we’ll improve and add thermal properties, embed optical properties, and even add properties like magnetism. It’s a truly revolutionary time for AM materials.”

Mechnano’s proprietary MechT technology unleashes carbon nanotube (CNT) potential in AM materials to achieve extraordinary performance. Image courtesy of Mechnano.

Discovered in 1991, CNTs are well-suited for virtually any application requiring high strength, durability, electrical conductivity, thermal conductivity, and lightweight properties compared to conventional materials. CNTs are molecularly small tubes of carbon—with walls just one atom thick. Their potential to improve materials is enormous as they have many unique properties, including being 100 times stronger than steel, harder than a diamond, and one thousand times more conductive than copper, so the possibilities seemed endless at the time. Lowder even remembered that many ideas began pouring in from across the scientific community, from creating space elevators to making paper-thin antiballistic vests and even flying superlight airframes. Yet until now, the practical applications of the discovery were limited.

While CNTs have been available industrially for many years, they love to bundle into large, knotted clumps, which destroy the value of the tubes. After over a decade of research and development, Mechnano’s technology unbundles the tubes and keeps them separated equally (or dispersed) through the entire printed part. The dispersion and functionalization technology unlocks their performance benefits and enables improvements to be electrical and thermal conductivity, impact resistance, tear resistance, adhesion, corrosion resistance, and more, without degrading the mechanical properties of the resins for 3D printing. Mechnano’s technology also permits the tubes to carry additional material properties into the system.

Mechnano is dedicated to exponentially improving AM materials and bringing to light the true power of carbon nanotube technology. Image courtesy of Mechnano.

The partnership between Dymax and Mechnano will concentrate on developing a range of functionalizations of the CNTs, supplied in various dispersion bases, to target improvements to specific properties. Dymax Oligomers and Coatings’ Business Unit Director, David Robitaille, said he was enthusiastic about the partnership because carbon nanotubes technology will benefit 3D printing and CASE (coatings, adhesives, sealants, and elastomers) applications. Dymax has experience in specialized UV-curable materials and formulations, making this partnership a natural next step to build a wider portfolio of UV applications.

Both Dymax and Mechnano were at the AMUG 2021 conference to present their latest material, the MechT E35A. It was created to be used in rigid, high tensile strength stereolithography (SLA), digital light processing (DLP), or jettable 3D printing resins to provide conductivity and decreased surface resistivity to printed parts. For example, the companies described that, when compared to FDM-printed electronics parts, electrostatic discharge (ESD) resins produced with MechT E35A can achieve fully isotropic conductivity with high resolution and isotropic mechanical properties. Additional applications include low surface resistivity or conductive printing and applications requiring high adhesion.

Starting in 2021, Mechnano announced plans to develop an advanced technology lab at the Arizona State University (ASU) Polytechnic campus as part of the ASU Polytechnic Innovation District. The move will provide unique training and educational opportunities for ASU Polytechnic students and facilitate ongoing collaboration with the ASU faculty. Through its 100-plus patents nanotechnology, Mechnano claims to be strategically focused on helping formulators create revolutionary materials that empower engineers to maximize their designs and products. Additionally, the startup is dedicated to exponentially improving AM and 3D printing materials.

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