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Additive Manufacturing of High-Loading Polymer Nanocomposites with Multiscale Alignment



Polymer nanocomposites have advantages in mechanical, electrical, and optical properties compared to individual components. These unique properties of the nanocomposites have attracted attention in many applications, including electronics, robotics, biomedical fields, automotive industries. To achieve their high performance, it is crucial to control the orientation of nanomaterials within the polymer matrix. For example, the electric conductivity will be maximized in the ordered direction of conductive nanomaterials such as graphene and carbon nanotubes (CNTs). Conventional fabrication methods are commonly used to obtain polymer nanocomposites with the controlled alignment of nanomaterials using electric or magnetic fields, fluid flow, and shear forces. Such approaches may be complex in preparing a manufacturing system, have low fabrication rate, and even limited structure scalability and complexity required for customized functional products. Recently, additive manufacturing (AM), also called 3D printing, has been developed as a major fabrication technology for nanocomposites with aligned reinforcements. AM has the ability to control the orientation of nanoparticles and offers a great way to produce the composites with cost-efficiency, high productivity, scalability, and design flexibility. Herein, we propose a manufacturing process using AM for the architected structure of polymer nanocomposites with oriented nanomaterials using a polylactic acid polymer as the matrix and graphite and CNTs as fillers. AM can achieve the aligned orientation of the nanofillers along the printing direction. Thus, it enables the fabrication of multifunctional nanocomposites with complex shapes and higher precision, from micron to macro scale. This method will offer great opportunities in the advanced applications that require complex multiscale structures such as energy storage devices (e.g., batteries and supercapacitors) and structural electronic devices (e.g., circuits and sensors).


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