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Reactive Extrusion Additive Manufacturing of a Short Fiber Reinforced Thermoset Composite



Additive manufacturing (AM) of high-performance composites has gained increasing interest over the last few years. Commercially available AM technologies often use thermoplastics as they are easy to process, i.e., to melt and re-solidify. However, thermosetting polymers generally achieve superior mechanical properties and thermostability. This study investigates reactive extrusion additive manufacturing (REAM) of a thermosetting polymer reinforced with carbon fibers. The process utilizes highly exothermic and fast curing resin/catalyst systems, eliminating the need for post-curing. The rheological properties of the liquid resin are first tuned for REAM using ~2wt.% fumed silica and ~10vol.% milled carbon fibers. Then, a robotic arm is used to print the composite samples. The coupons’ longitudinal and transverse tensile properties are measured and correlated with the degree of cure, porosity, fiber length distribution, and fiber orientation distribution. The incorporation of milled carbon fibers, 50-200 m long, primarily affects the stiffness. Compared to neat polymer parts, carbon fiber reinforced composites are 51% stiffer and 8% stronger. In addition, polymeric crosslinking between part layers resulted in strong inter-layer bonding. Short fibers were also randomly oriented within parts due to the nozzle size and shape, resulting in nearly isotropic parts. The results presented here pave the road for fast and low-energy AM of high-performance composites.


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