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3D Printed Ceramics for Jet Engines, Manufactured on a $3000 Printer

Aerospace researchers unveil new additive manufacturing techniques for super strong ceramic outputs.




Researchers at HRL Laboratories (Malibu, California), a physical science and engineering research firm, have announced the discovery of a method for 3D printing high-tech ceramics that can be used in high-stress environments, such as rockets, jet engines, space shuttles, insulation for computer chips, and ball bearings.

“It’s especially powerful to be able to 3D print ceramics because you can’t process ceramics easily, you can’t machine them, you can’t cast them easily,” says Tobias Schaedler, a senior scientist for HRL. While traditional sintering processes leave ceramics vulnerable to pores and cracks that can cause breakage, Schaedler and his colleagues invented a new resin that can be printed and fired, forming a ceramic 10 times stronger than similar existing materials. In fact, the material can withstand temperatures up to 1700 C.

And though these ceramics are hardly intended for everyday use, they’re not inaccessible to the hobbyist; part of the printing for the study was conducted on a $3000 Formlabs benchtop Form 1+ 3D printer.

To create the new resin, scientists created a UV-curable siloxane resin by mixing methylsiloxane and vinylmethoxysiloxane (siloxane monomers based on silicon, carbon, and oxygen), then adding a UV free-radical photo initiator, a free radical inhibitor, and a UV absorber to form a liquid resin system. The resin was then exposed to UV light in the 3D printer to form a preceramic polymer, then fired to convert the polymer into the final ceramic product. The resultant study, “Additive manufacturing of polymer-derived ceramics,” was published in January in Science.






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