Thermal properties of 3-D printed polylactic acid-metal composites

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Standard fused filament fabrication (FFF)-based 3-D printers fabricate parts from thermopolymers, such as polylactic acid (PLA). A new range of metal based PLA composites are available providing a novel range of potential engineering materials for such 3-D printers. Currently, limited material data, specifically thermal property characterization is available on these composites. As a result, the application of these materials into functional engineered systems is not possible. This study aims to fill the knowledge gap by quantifying the thermal properties of copperFill, bronzeFill, magnetic iron PLA, and stainless steel PLA composites and provide insight into the technical considerations of FFF composite 3-D printing. Specifically, in this study the correlation of the composite microstructure and printing parameters are explored and the results of thermal conductivity analysis as a function of printed matrix properties are provided. Considering the relative deviation from the filament raw bulk analysis, the results show the printing operation significantly impacts the resultant component density. Experimentally collected thermal conductivity values, however, do not correlate to the theoretical models in the literature and more rigorous quantitative exercises are required to determine true percent porosity to accurately model the effect of air pore volume fraction on thermal conductivity. Despite this limitation, the thermal conductivity values provided can be used to engineer thermal conductivity into 3-D printed parts with these PLA-based composites. Finally, several high-value applications of such 3-D printed materials that look metallic, but have low thermal conductivity are reviewed.


Additive manufacturing, 3-D printing, Thermal conductivity, Polylactic acid, RepRap, Composite

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