Multi-material Ceramic-Based Components – Additive Manufacturing of Black-and-white Zirconia Components by Thermoplastic 3D-Printing (CerAM - T3DP)

Engineering
 

Summary

Here we describe a protocol for additively manufacturing black-and-white zirconia components by Thermoplastic 3D-Printing (CerAM - T3DP) and co-sintering defect-free.

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Weingarten, S., Scheithauer, U., Johne, R., Abel, J., Schwarzer, E., Moritz, T., Michaelis, A. Multi-material Ceramic-Based Components – Additive Manufacturing of Black-and-white Zirconia Components by Thermoplastic 3D-Printing (CerAM - T3DP). J. Vis. Exp. (143), e57538, doi:10.3791/57538 (2019).

Abstract

To combine the benefits of Additive Manufacturing (AM) with the benefits of Functionally Graded Materials (FGM) to ceramic-based 4D components (three dimensions for the geometry and one degree of freedom concerning the material properties at each position) the Thermoplastic 3D-Printing (CerAM - T3DP) was developed. It is a direct AM technology which allows the AM of multi-material components. To demonstrate the advantages of this technology black-and-white zirconia components were additively manufactured and co-sintered defect-free.

Two different pairs of black and white zirconia powders were used to prepare different thermoplastic suspensions. Appropriate dispensing parameters were investigated to manufacture single-material test components and adjusted for the additive manufacturing of multi-color zirconia components.

Introduction

Functionally Graded Materials (FGM) are materials with a variety of properties concerning transitions in the microstructure or in the material1. These transitions can be discrete or continuous. Different kinds of FGM are known, such as components with material gradients, graded porosity as well as multi-colored components.

FGM-components can be manufactured by single conventional shaping technologies2,3,4,5,6,7 or by a combination of these technologies, for example, by in-mold labeling as a combination of tape casting and injection molding8,9.

Additive manufacturing (AM) allows for the production of components with a so far unprecedented freedom of design. This is considered the state of the art shaping technology for polymers and metals. First commercial processes for the processing of ceramics are available10, and nearly all known AM technologies are used for AM of ceramics in laboratories all over the world11,12,13.

To combine the benefits of AM with the benefits of FGM to ceramic-based 4D components (three dimensions for the geometry and one degree of freedom concerning the material properties at each position) the Thermoplastic 3D-Printing (CerAM - T3DP) has been developed at Fraunhofer IKTS in Dresden, Germany, as a direct AM technology. This allows the AM of multi-material components14,15,16,17. CerAM - T3DP is based on the selective deposition of single droplets of particle filled thermoplastic suspensions. By utilizing multiple dosing systems, different thermoplastic suspensions can be deposited beside each other layer by layer to produce bulk material as well as property gradients within the additively manufactured green components18. Unlike indirect AM processes, in which previously deposited materials solidify selectively over the entire layer, the CerAM - T3DP process does not require the additional effort of removing any non-solidified material prior to the deposition of the next material, making it more suitable for the AM of multi-material components.

Although utilizing the CerAM - T3DP process allows the AM of FGM and the realization of ceramic-based components with unprecedented properties, there are challenges to overcome regarding the necessary thermal treatment after the AM process, in order to obtain a multi-material composite. In particular, the paired powders in the composite material need to be successfully co-sintered, for which the sintering of the components has to be performed at the same temperature and atmosphere. Therefore, it is a prerequisite for all materials to have a comparable sintering temperature and behavior (starting temperature of sintering, shrinkage behavior). In order to avoid critical mechanical stress during cooling, the coefficient of thermal expansion of all materials has to be approximately equal11.

The combination of materials with different properties in one component opens the door to components with unprecedented properties for manifold applications. E.g. stainless steel-zirconia composites can be used as cutting tools, wear resistant components, energy, and fuel cell components or as bipolar surgical tools19,20,21,22,23,24. Such components could be realized by CerAM - T3DP14,15,16,17, too, after the adjustment of the sintering behavior by a special milling process16.

Ceramic-based FGM with a graded porosity like dense and porous zirconia combine very good mechanical properties in the dense areas with a high active surface of the porous areas. Such like components can be additively manufactured by CerAM - T3DP18.

In this paper, we investigate the AM of zirconia components with two different colors in one component by CerAM - T3DP. We chose white and black zirconia because this combination in one ceramic component is interesting for jewelry applications. The demand of individualized luxury goods is very high and still growing. Technologies which allow the AM of ceramic-based multi-material components with a high resolution and very good surface properties will allow to satisfy this demand. Ceramics like zirconia are used for example to produce watch components like watch cases and bezels or for rings because of the special haptics, glance, hardness and lower weight compared to metals.

Protocol

1. Thermoplastic Suspension for CerAM - T3DP

  1. Selection of powders
    1. For the preparation of the black thermoplastic suspensions use black zirconia powders zirconia black - 1 and zirconia black - 2.
    2. For the preparation of the white thermoplastic suspensions use zirconia white - 1 and zirconia white - 2.
      NOTE: The manufacturer of zirconia black - 2 uses pigments (4.2 wt.-%) for the coloring of the zirconia and also states that both powders have the same sintering behavior. Additionally, the high percentage of alumina (20.43 wt.-%) contributes to the white color of zirconia white - 2. The powders zirconia black - 1 and zirconia white - 1 have a different composition and thus require a different sintering temperature for complete densification. In contrast to zirconia white - 1, zirconia black - 1 consists at most 5 wt.-% pigments. The recommended sintering temperatures are 1400 °C for zirconia black - 1 and 1350 °C for zirconia white - 1.
  2. Characterize the powders regarding shape, surface area and particle size distribution.
    NOTE: Electron scanning microscopy images have been used to characterize the shape of the particles. The particle size distribution of the utilized powders was measured by a laser diffraction method (laser diffractometer). The measurements for the specific surface properties of the used powders have been provided by the manufacture.
  3. For the preparation of the different zirconia suspensions melt a mixture of paraffin and beeswax at a temperature of 100 °C in a heatable dissolver and homogenize the polymer mixture.
    1. Then add the powder in several steps to reach a powder content of 40 vol.%.
    2. Homogenize the powder-polymer-mixture by stirring for 2 h at 100 °C. Ensure that all suspensions have the same powder content (40 vol.%).
  4. Characterization of suspensions
    1. Characterize the rheological behavior of the molten suspension using a rheometer for shear rates in a range between 0-5,000/s for different temperatures in a range between 85 °C and 110 °C.
      NOTE: We used a rheometer adjustable between -25 °C to 200 °C with a plate/plate measuring system (25 mm diameter). The torque was measured, and the dynamic viscosity was calculated.
    2. Plot the dynamic viscosity as function of the shear rate and make sure that the dynamic viscosity is below 100 Pa·s for a shear rate of 10/s, below 20 Pa·s for a shear rate of 100/s and below 1 Pa·s for a shear rate of 5,000/s or increase the temperature within the permissible range.
    3. Change the suspension composition by adding polymer mixture if the dynamic viscosity is too high even for a temperature of 110 °C.

2. Manufacturing of Single and Multi-Material Components by CerAM - T3DP

  1. Used device
    Figure 1 shows a CAD-drawing of the used CerAM - T3DP-device with one profile scanner and three different micro dispensing systems, which can work simultaneously or alternately. Use two of them to produce black-and-white components.
    1. Set the deposition of the droplets to a frequency up to 100/s and the axes to move with a maximum velocity of 20 mm/s.
  2. Investigation of deposition parameters
    Investigate the influence of deposition parameters (working velocities of the micro dispensing system; temperatures of suspension reservoir and nozzle; velocity of the axis) on the properties of the resulting droplets (shape; volume; homogeneity) or droplet chains (shape; volume; homogeneity).
    1. Vary the deposition parameters and deposit single droplets as well as droplet chains by using different frequencies and axes velocities for deposition.
      NOTE: The influence of the dispenser parameters on the properties of the materials has been discussed before25. Parameter value boundaries have only been determined empirically.
    2. Make sure that that the variance in droplet chain height and width should not exceed 3 %. Vary the parameters pulse width, droplet fusion factor (DFF) and extrusion width (slicing parameter) to compensate diameter differences up to 100 microns and height differences up to 50 microns.
      NOTE: It is not necessary and probably not possible to realize perfectly shaped hemispheres as single droplets, but you have to make sure that the homogeneity of the droplet formation is very high to guarantee a homogenous building of the components.
    3. Repeat this step with different initial parameters to find a parameter set which provides the most homogenous droplet shape with respect to droplet diameter, width and height.
  3. Manufacturing of single-material test components
    1. Use a generated 3D model of the desired part and save the file as STL or AMF file format.
    2. Use a slicing program (e.g. Slicer 1 or Slicer 2) to generate the corresponding G-code. Set the properties for the droplet shape acquired in step 2.2.
    3. Upload the G-code and fill the process parameters to the CerAM - T3DP-device. Set the CerAM - T3DP-device for the parameters obtained in step 2.2 that did correspond to the droplet shape provided to the slicer. Start the device software to start the building job.
      NOTE: It is beneficial to manufacture certain test samples before building the desired part or using new suspensions.
  4. CerAM - T3DP of multi-material components
    1. For each material involved execute step 2.2.
    2. Select dispensing parameters for both materials which have approximately the same droplet characteristics.
    3. Adjust the layer heights by changing the distance between the single droplets and the resulting overlap to avoid differences in heights for the different materials, which can result in large defects and faulty components.
      NOTE: By reducing the distance between two droplets and the associated greater overlap, the width and height of the droplet chain increases due to the nearly constant volume of the single droplets. It can be observed that the droplet chain width increases faster than the droplet chain height.
    4. Use a generated 3D model of the desired part and save the file as AMF files. If supported by the slicer multiple component areas can also be saved in STL file format.
    5. In order to print multi-material components, assign corresponding component areas to the associated material in the slicing software by allocating a corresponding micro dispensing system for each material.
    6. Generate the G-codes for each material by using the slicer software.
    7. Upload the G-code and fill the process parameters to the CerAM - T3DP-device. Set the CerAM - T3DP-device for the parameters obtained in step 2.2 that did correspond to the droplet shape provided to the slicer. Start the device software to start the building job.

3. Co-Debinding and Co-Sintering of Single- and Multi-Material Components

  1. Debind the green samples in the following separate steps.
    1. First, put the samples in a loose bulk of coarse-grained alumina powder (powder bed) to structurally support the samples as well as to ensure a homogeneous temperature distribution and to promote the removal of the binder materials by capillary forces.
    2. Perform a debinding with a very low heating rate in a furnace (debinding furnace) under air-atmosphere up to 270 °C. Set the heating rate to 4 K/h to ensure a defect-free debinding.
  2. After this first debinding step carefully remove the bedding powder for example with a fine brush. Place the samples on alumina kiln furniture.
  3. Apply a second debinding step under air-atmosphere up to 900 °C (12 K/h) in the same furnace.
    NOTE: All remaining organic binder materials were thermally removed, while within in the same step a pre-sintering of the zirconia particles was initiated to enable the subsequent transfer of the samples to a sintering kiln.
  4. Finally sinter the samples under air-atmosphere at 1,350 °C (180 K/h) for 2 h in a suitable furnace (sintering furnace). Characterize the shrinkage of the components by length measurement in three dimensions and make sure that it is about 20% for each direction.

4. Characterization of Single- and Multi-Material Components

  1. Cut the samples properly and polish the surface using ceramographic methods.
  2. Apply investigations on the microstructure by using Field Emission Scanning Electron Microscope (FESEM).
  3. Visually inspect the porosity of the two phases and at the boundary interface of the used materials. To obtain a more detailed result perform an interface analysis, e.g. by FESEM and subsequent picture analysis to investigate the porosity within the sintered microstructure.
    The targeted porosity is below 1%. If the porosity is too high, vary the deposition parameter rising (2.2) and/or the regime of the thermal treatment (3).

Representative Results

For the production of measured components, only powders of the same manufacturer have been combined for each multi-material component. Experiments with powders of different manufactures in one component are still ongoing. For this purpose, the different shrink rates have to be considered.

The measurement result of the average particle diameter (d50) of the zirconia white - 1 after dispersion was 0.37 µm. The manufacturer states an actual particle size of 0.04 µm (one order of magnitude less). The average particle size (d50) of the zirconia black - 1 is 0.5 µm. Figure 2 (A) shows the FESEM analysis of the zirconia white - 1 and Figure 2 (B) a FESEM-image of the surface of a granulate in detail. Figure 2 (C) and Figure 2 (D) show the same for zirconia black - 1. Both untreated powders consist of big spherical granules (diameter up to 100 µm) which is typical for dry pressing raw materials. The FESEM-images of the granulate surfaces show the primary particles of the zirconia white - 1 (Figure 2 (B)) and zirconia black - 1 (Figure 2 (D)) with an actual particle size of almost 0.04 µm.

The Figure 2 (E) 2 (H) show the FESEM-images of the zirconia white - 2 and zirconia black - 2. The measured average particle sizes (d50) of the zirconia powders zirconia white - 2 and zirconia black - 2 are 0.27 µm and 0.25 µm, respectively, wherein the particles are present as spherical granules with diameters up to 100 µm (Figure 2 (E) and Figure 2 (G)). The size of the white powders primary particles is below 0.1 µm (Figure 2 (F)). The black powders primary particles are up to 0.5 µm in diameter (Figure 2 (H)).

Figure 3 (A) shows the dynamic viscosity of the suspensions based on zirconia white - 1 and zirconia black - 1 as a function of the shear rate and in dependence of the temperature (85 °C and 100 °C). Both suspensions show a shear thinning behavior regardless of the temperature.

Table 1 summarizes the measured viscosities of the suspensions at different shear rates and for different temperatures.

Figure 3 (B) shows the rheological behavior of the suspensions based on zirconia white - 2 and zirconia black - 2 (85 °C and 100 °C). All graphs show a shear thinning behavior. Table 2 summarizes the measured viscosities of the suspensions at different shear rates and for different temperatures.

In addition to shear rate-controlled measurements, long-term measurements were carried out. Figure 3 (C) shows the course of the dynamic viscosity during the long-term measurements for all four suspensions at a constant shear rate of 10/s over 2 h. While the dynamic viscosity of the white zirconia suspensions (zirconia white - 1 and zirconia white - 2) is nearly constant (Table 3), the dynamic viscosity tends to decrease slightly of the black zirconia (zirconia black - 1 and zirconia black - 2).

After the empirical determination of the dosing parameters the manufacturing of single component, three dimensional structures became manageable for each suspension. Figure 4 (A) shows a complex sintered test structure based on the suspension made of zirconia white - 1 and additively manufactured by CerAM - T3DP. The same test structure additively manufactured by CerAM - T3DP and the zirconia black - 1-suspension is shown in Figure 4 (B).

Figure 4 (C) shows a sintered test structure based on the zirconia suspensions of the zirconia white - 2, Figure 4 (D) a sintered test structure based on zirconia black - 2. Subsequent to the manufacturing of the single-color components the manufacturing of multi-color components took place. The Figure 4 (D) to 4 (F) show some sintered multi-color zirconia components additive manufacturing using the CerAM - T3DP.

Figure 5 (A) and Figure 5 (B) show FESEM-images of the microstructure of multi-color components with a clearly distinguishable interface between the two suspensions based on the zirconia powders zirconia white - 1 (top) and zirconia black - 1 (bottom).

An energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopic analysis (EDX) showed that in the microstructure of the sintered zirconia black - 1 more alumina crust occurs (Figures 6 (A-C)). To evaluate the composition of the and zirconia black - 1-microstructure especially in the dark areas in more detail further EDX investigations took place (Figures 6 (D-G)) which showed the precipitation of alumina (Figure 6 (E)).

Figure 1
Figure 1: CAD-drawing of used CerAM - T3DP-device with three micro dispensing units and one surface scanner. Please click here to view a larger version of this figure.

Figure 2
Figure 2: FESEM-image of used zirconia granulates. (A) zirconia white - 1 granulates - overview and (B) surface; (C)zirconia black - 1 granulates - overview and (D) surface; (E) zirconia white - 2 granulates - overview and (F) surface; (G) zirconia black - 2 granulates - overview and (H) surface.

Figure 3
Figure 3: Rheological behavior of thermoplastic suspensions. (A) based on the zirconia powders zirconia white - 1 and zirconia black - 1; (B) based on the zirconia powders zirconia white - 2 and zirconia black - 2; (C) comparison of all four suspensions during a long-term measurement at a constant shear rate of 10/s.

Figure 4
Figure 4: Sintered single- and multi-material test structures additively manufactured by T3DP. (A) based on zirconia white - 1 -suspension; (B) based on zirconia black - 1 -suspension; (C) based on zirconia white - 2 -suspension; (D) based on zirconia black - 2 -suspension; (E) based on zirconia white - 1 - and zirconia black - 1 -suspension; (F) based on zirconia white - 2- and zirconia black - 2 -suspension - frame-like structure and (G) ring-like structure.

Figure 5
Figure 5: FESEM-images. FESEM-images of cross section at interface between sintered zirconia white - 1 (top) and zirconia black - 1 (bottom); (A) planar interface and (B) interwoven interface

Figure 6
Figure 6: Results of EDX measurements at sintered zirconia white - 1 / zirconia black - 1 -interface. (A) Overview about measurement fields 1 + 2 and (D) 3 - 5; results of measurement (B) field 1, (C) field 2, (E) field 3, (F) field 4 and (G) field 5.

Figure 7
Figure 7: Mass change of the zirconia white - 1- and zirconia black - 1 -suspensions during thermal decomposition Please click here to view a larger version of this figure.

Table 1
Table 1: Dynamic viscosity of thermoplastic suspensions based on the zirconia powders zirconia white - 1 and zirconia black - 1. Please click here to download this file.

Table 2
Table 2: Dynamic viscosity of thermoplastic suspensions based on the zirconia powders zirconia white - 2 and zirconia black - 2. Please click here to download this file.

Table 3
Table 3: Dynamic viscosity of all four suspensions during the long-term measurement at a constant shear rate of 10/s. Please click here to download this file.

Discussion

The characterization of the rheological behavior of the molten suspension at high shear rates up to 5000/s is necessary since the assessment of the conditions within the used micro dispensing systems (geometry of piston and nozzle chamber, velocity of piston) revealed that shear rates of 5000/s and higher are generated in the micro dispensing system during the deposition process25.

The investigation of the printing parameters should be done to aid with the calibration of the dispenser for the manufacturing of multi-material components. The influence of the dispenser parameters on the properties of the materials has been discussed in25. Parameter value boundaries have only been determent empirically. Experience so far shows that the variance in droplet chain height and width should not exceed 3 %. Diameter differences up to 100 microns and height differences up to 50 microns can be compensated by the parameters pulse width, droplet fusion factor (DFF) and extrusion width (slicing parameter).

It is critical for the printing process that the layer heights of the different materials are adjusted to each other by changing the distance between the single droplets, since it would result in an unevenness within a layer if the heights of the different materials do not match. An unevenness leads to large defects and faulty components. By reducing the distance between two droplets and the associated greater overlap, the width and height of the droplet chain increases due to the nearly constant volume of the single droplets. It can be observed that the droplet chain width increases faster than the droplet chain height.It is not necessary and probably not possible to realize perfectly shaped hemispheres as single droplets, but you have to make sure by determining the fitting dispensing parameters that the homogeneity of the droplet formation is very high to guarantee a homogenous building of the components.

The measurement at 85 °C simulates the rheological behavior of the suspensions in the feeding cartridge of the micro dispensing system. Above 90 °C, the decomposition of the binder components begins (Figure 7). All suspensions show nearly similar behavior. The used nozzle temperature of the micro dispensing system was 100 °C. This temperature promotes the droplet formation due to the low viscosity caused by increasing the suspensions temperature while passing the nozzle. Because of the short dwell time of the suspensions within the nozzle at this temperature the decomposition is not influencing the material behavior significantly.

The multi-color components could be sintered nearly defect-free, but for the zirconia black - 2 and zirconia white - 2 powders the color of the white phase turned into pink. The cause for the color change are diffusion processes between the different materials during sintering. This is only an effect at the surface and can be removed by a grinding step. But this is very challenging for complex structures made by AM technologies.

Within the multi-color components planar and interwoven boundary interfaces developed between the two different compositions. Thus, regardless of the drop-bound deposition of the material, the arrangement of the different microstructures can be realized very precisely. Furthermore, the droplet shape can be exploited to increase the boundary interface between two materials. So far only discrete material transitions have been produced. Future research may also involve the production of gradual changes between materials.

Disclosures

The authors have nothing to disclose.

Acknowledgments

This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Program under Grant Agreement No 678503.

Materials

Name Company Catalog Number Comments
Material
Zirconia black - 1 TZ-3Y-Black Tosoh
Zirconia black - 2 ZirPro ColorYZ Black Saint Gobain
Zirconia white - 1 TZ-3Y-Black Tosoh
Zirconia white - 2 ZirPro ColorYZ Arctic White Saint Gobain
Equipment
laser diffractometer Mastersizer 2000 Malvern Instruments Ltd., United Kingdom
dissolver DISPERMAT CA 20-C VMA-Getzmann GmbH, Germany
rheometer Modular Compact Rheometer MCR 302  Anton Paar, Graz, Austria
micro dispensing system MDS 3250 Vermes, Germany  
T3DP-device  IKTS-T3DP-device "TRUDE", in-house development Fraunhofer IKTS, not commerzialized
profile scanner LJ-V7020 Keyence  
Slicer 1 Slic3r open source software
Slicer 2 Simplify3D Simplofy3D
debinding furnace NA120/45 Nabertherm, Germany
sintering furnace LH 15/12 Nabertherm, Germany 
FESEM Gemini 982  Zeiss, Germany 

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