(19)
(11)EP 3 375 819 A1

(12)EUROPEAN PATENT APPLICATION

(43)Date of publication:
19.09.2018 Bulletin 2018/38

(21)Application number: 17160613.0

(22)Date of filing:  13.03.2017
(51)Int. Cl.: 
C08L 63/00  (2006.01)
B33Y 70/00  (2015.01)
B29C 64/141  (2017.01)
B29C 64/153  (2017.01)
(84)Designated Contracting States:
AL AT BE BG CH CY CZ DE DK EE ES FI FR GB GR HR HU IE IS IT LI LT LU LV MC MK MT NL NO PL PT RO RS SE SI SK SM TR
Designated Extension States:
BA ME
Designated Validation States:
MA MD

(71)Applicant: TIGER Coatings GmbH & Co. KG
4600 Wels (AT)

(72)Inventors:
  • NGUYEN, Le-Huong
    4600 Wels (AT)
  • HERZHOFF, Carsten
    4600 Wels (AT)
  • BRÜSTLE, Bernhard
    4600 Wels (AT)
  • BUCHINGER, Gerhard
    4600 Wels (AT)

(74)Representative: Sonn & Partner Patentanwälte 
Riemergasse 14
1010 Wien
1010 Wien (AT)

  


(54)USE OF A THERMOSETTING POLYMERIC POWDER COMPOSTION


(57) The present invention relates to the use of a thermosetting polymeric powder composition in a 3D printing process to produce a 3D duroplast, wherein the composition comprises at least one curable polymeric binder material and at least one thermoplast having a Tg and/or Mp below the temperature provided in a pass of the printing process and wherein during each pass of the printing process said polymeric binder material is at least partially cured within the layer thus formed and also at least partially crosslinked with the previous layer. The invention furthermore relates to a 3D printing process using such a thermosetting polymeric powder composition and a 3D-printing product obtained when using such a thermosetting polymeric powder composition.


Description


[0001] The present invention relates to the field of rapid prototyping (e.g. 3 D Printing), and is particularly directed to the development of polymeric materials for producing functional parts, prototypes, models or tools by way of a 3D printing process.

[0002] In almost any field of Mechanical engineering there is an existing need for the rapid production of prototypes. Laser Sintering, as it is already known in the state of the art, is the widespread rapid prototyping technology enabling the direct manufacture of three-dimensional articles of high resolution and dimensional accuracy from a variety of powdered materials, including conventional polymer powders. Prototypes or even production parts may be efficiently and economically produced by this process, which is often referred to as Selective Laser Sintering (SLS®, DTM Corporation, Austin, Texas). (referred to as SLS herein)

[0003] SLS was developed in the mid 1980's by Carl Deckard and Joseph Beaman in the Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of Texas. SLS is a powder based 3D model fabrication method using a high power laser, e.g. CO2 or Nd:YAG, to sinter polymer powders to generate a 3D model. In the SLS process, a first layer of powder is deposited evenly onto a stage by a roller, and is then heated to a temperature just below the powder's melting point. Then, a laser beam is selectively scanned over the powder to raise the local temperature to the powder's melting point to fuse the single powder particles together. After the first layer is thereby completed, a second layer of powder is added, leveled, and again sintered in the desired areas. These steps are repeated to create a 3D model. An inert gas is routinely used to prevent oxidation during selective laser sintering.

[0004] Detailed description of SLS technology may be found in US 4,863,538 A, US 5,017,753 A and US 4,994,817 A. Furthermore, US 5,296,062 A describes a method and apparatus for selectively sintering a layer of powder to produce a part comprising a plurality of sintered layers.

[0005] Meanwhile, various powders have been developed for use in this technology. Reference is made in this respect, for instance, to DE 101 22 492 A1, EP 0 968 080 A1, WO 03/106146 A1, or DE 197 47 309 A1.

[0006] US 6,136,948 A and WO 96/06881 A provide detailed description of laser sintering process for producing moldings from powdered polymers. A wide variety of thermoplastic polymers and copolymers is disclosed in those documents, e.g. polyacetate, polypropylene, polyethylene and polyamide.

[0007] Polyamide-12 (PA 12) powder has proven particularly successful in industry for SLS to produce moldings, in particular to produce engineering components. The parts manufactured from PA12 powder meet the high requirements demanded with regards to mechanical loading. EP 0 911 142 A1 describes the use of PA 12 powder for producing moldings by SLS. US 8,124,686 B describes the process to prepare the PA 12 powder suitable for SLS.

[0008] US 2007/0126159 A1 relates to the use of thermoplastic polyester powder in a shaping process, and moldings produced from this polyester powder.

[0009] US 8,247,492 B2 and US 8,592,519 B2 provide thermoplastic polyester powder compositions reinforced with fibers that are useful in laser sintering. The documents also relate to the method of manufacturing articles from such powder compositions.

[0010] Fused deposition modeling (FDM) is another 3D printing process commonly used for modeling, prototyping, and production applications. The process works on an "additive" principle by laying down material in layers; for this a plastic filament or metal wire is unwound from a coil and supplies material to an extrusion nozzle which can turn the flow on and off. There is typically a worm-drive that pushes the filament into the nozzle at a controlled rate. The model or part is produced by extruding molten material through the nozzle to form layers as the material hardens immediately after extrusion. During FDM, the hot molten polymer is exposed to air, so operating the printing process within an inert gas atmosphere such as nitrogen or argon can significantly increase the layer adhesion and leads to improved mechanical properties of the 3D printed objects.

[0011] Yet another 3D printing process is the selective fusing of materials in a granular bed. The technique fuses parts of the layer and then moves upward in the working area, adding another layer of granules and repeating the process until the piece has built up. This process uses the unfused media to support overhangs and thin walls in the part being produced, which reduces the need for temporary auxiliary supports for the piece.

[0012] Selective laser melting (SLM) does not use sintering for the fusion of powder granules but will completely melt the powder by using a high-energy laser beam to create fully dense materials in a layer-wise method that has mechanical properties similar to those of conventional manufactured materials.

[0013] Selective Heat Sintering (SHS) uses a thermal printhead instead of a laser beam to produce 3D objects, the process is designed to use a thermoplastic powder. In the printer, a roller applies a layer of plastic powder across a heated build platform. The thermal printhead traces the object's cross-sectional area over the powder, applying just enough heat to sinter the top layer of powder. Once the layer is complete, the process is repeated with the next layer until a complete 3D object is formed. Excess powder surrounding the object helps provide support for complex shapes and overhangs. Unused powder is also reusable for the next 3D print. Since thermal printheads are less expensive, the overall cost of selective heat sintering is more affordable than SLS.

[0014] Turning now to the materials used in the above mentioned 3D printing processes, a particular disadvantage of the use of semi-crystalline thermoplastics, e.g. PA 12, is that it leads to shrinkage problems, therefore it is complicate to produce accurate parts. In another aspect, the use of semi-crystalline thermoplastics also provides dense parts, which may not be an advantage for some applications where high porosity for light weight parts but with a remaining part strength is preferred. In such applications, amorphous thermoplastics are preferred over semi-crystalline thermoplastics like PA 12. However, a disadvantage of amorphous thermoplastics is high viscosity, which permits coalescence only above melting point or above the glass transition temperature of the thermoplastics used.

[0015] Another disadvantage of the use of thermoplastic powder materials is that parts produced from it have only low dimensional stability at high temperature working conditions.

[0016] On the other hand, chemically crosslinked (cured) polymers, so called thermosets, have outstanding thermal and chemical properties and are irreplaceable in demanding applications, such as in structural parts needed by the aircraft and automotive industries.

[0017] Thermoset materials have so far being utilized only in liquid form and also only in laser-stereolithography, a process that fabricates 3D objects in a bath of liquid photopolymer. This process, however, needs complicated support structures to retain the interim material produced after each pass of the printing process in the liquid bath. Due to the liquid form of the thermoset material required for this technique, the choice of material variety is limited.

[0018] US 2007/0241482 A1 relates to the production of three dimensional objects by use of electromagnetic radiation. The material system disclosed in this document and used for 3D printing comprises a granular material including a first particulate adhesive selected from the group consisting of a thermoset material and a thermoplastic material; and an absorber (fluid) capable of being heated upon exposure to electromagnetic energy sufficiently to bond the granular material. The absorber process described in this document provides a way to deliver heat to a printed layer in a 3D printer. In such a process, a dry particulate building material is treated with a liquid deposit in a cross-section of an article to be built, where the liquid engenders a solidification in the particulate build material by means of the absorber used.

[0019] The research group at Harvard University Cambridge reported on "3D-Printing of Lightweight Cellular Composites" (Adv. Mater. 2014, V 26, Issue 34, 5930-5935). The fiber reinforced composite 3D part described in this document was made of an epoxy-based ink and manufactured by 3D extrusion printing technique.

[0020] US 2014/0121327 A1 describes a process for producing a crosslinked powder using Diels-Alder reaction. A disadvantage of this Diels-Alder system is the limitation of material variety due to the specific chemistry requirements of material for Diels-Alder reaction. Another disadvantage is that the Diels-Alder reaction is thermoreversible and may not allow for applications requiring high thermostability.

[0021] In the SLS process, high power lasers, e.g. CO2 and Nd:YAG, are used to sinter polymer powders in order to generate a 3D model. A CO2 laser was already successfully used to completely cure thermosetting powder (Lala Abhinandan 26/SPIE Vo. 2374 & J. Laser Appl. 11, 248, 1999; Giuseppina Simane, Progress in Organic Coatings 68, 340-346, 2010). The experiments and results in these documents referred to 2D applications, not to 3D printing applications.

[0022] WO 2008/057844 A1 D1 is directed to powder compositions which include at least one polymer powder that is preferably laser sinterable, together with reinforcing particles. According to this document a laser beam selectively irritates the powder layer within the defined boundaries of the design, resulting in melting of the powder on which the laser beam falls. The control mechanism operates the laser to selectively sinter sequential powder layers, eventually producing a complete article comprising a plurality of layers sintered together. The term "laser sinterable polymer powder" as used in this document is defined to refer to a powder which is capable of being melted by a laser beam of the LS (laser sintering) machine.

[0023] XP-002754724 (JP 20080107369) describes a composite material powder which can be used for the manufacture of a moulded product by selective laser sintering. The composite powder comprises spherical aggregates and a resin powder, said spherical aggregates comprising a spherical thermosetting resin curing material and spherical carbon. As an example, use of phenol resin material and polyamide 12 is disclosed.

[0024] US 2004/0081573 A1 discloses a polymeric binder material comprising thermoplastics and thermoset polymers together with metal particles and metal hydride for forming a green article, after removal of unfused material from the green article it is placed in an oven or finance to decompose and drive off the binder and sinter the metal substrate particles. During printing, the powder is fused, or sinter, by the application of the laser energy that is directed to those portions of the powder corresponding to a cross section of the article. After defusing powder in each layer, an additional layer of powder is then dispensed, and the process repeated, with fused portions of later layer fusing to fused portions of previous layers until the article is complete.

[0025] It is thus an object of the present invention to provide, for the rapid prototyping process in form of 3D printing, in particular for the SLS, FDM and SHS processes, a powder material being capable of curing reactions within the printing process to form a 3D object with good mechanical properties, adequate stability, good end use of temperature and for light weight applications. Although several polymeric powders have already been developed for the 3D printing technology, the existing materials typically suffered from one or more drawbacks such as, e.g. cost, ease of use, shrinkage problem, mechanical properties or stability at elevated temperature environments. Furthermore, 3D printing has been developed for thermoplastic materials but not for a 3D printing technique for a thermoset polymer powder system where curing occurs during melting (sintering). The challenge for such a printing technique is that a thermoset polymer powder must be melted and at least partially be cured under the very short energy exposure of the 3D printing process, leaving free functionalities for curing/crosslinking with the next printed layer.

[0026] Thus, there is a need for the developments of a new class of polymeric powder compositions useful in a 3D printing process, which compositions comprise curable polymeric binder material, composites produced when using such powder compositions, especially fiber reinforced composites, and the suitable printing processes when using such polymeric powder compositions, enabling the production of specific moldings when outstanding thermal and chemical properties as well as structural dimensional stability is required.

[0027] To surpass the disadvantages of the state of the art as mentioned above, the present invention provides for the use of a thermosetting polymeric powder composition in a 3D printing process to produce a 3D duroplast, wherein the composition comprises at least one curable polymeric binder material and at least one thermoplast having a Tg and/or Mp below the temperature provided in a pass of the printing process and wherein during each pass of the printing process said polymeric binder material is at least partially cured within the layer thus formed and also at least partially crosslinked with the previous layer. Such a use also enables production of moldings with high porosity but remaining part strength, light weight and durability as honeycomb structures utilized in composite materials. In the curable polymeric binder material as used according to the present invention, the heating during the 3D printing process results in both sintering/melting as well as at least partial chemical crosslinking of the curable polymeric binder material. The composition as used is formulated in a way that the curing reactions will occur after very short energy exposure, therefore the powder composition cures (crosslinks) at least partially already during sintering/melting. In case of pure UV curing systems also UV light is necessary for curing. The powder composition as used according to the present invention comprises mainly amorphous curable polymeric binder material resulting in cured (crosslinked) printed 3D produced by for instance the SLS process with high porosity. When this high porosity structure is additionally reinforced with short fibers, e.g. "whiskers", the objects gain mechanical properties and also show the unique lightweight properties of conventional honeycomb composite materials. The presence of a thermoplast with a Tg (e.g. in case of an amorphous material or in amorphous regions within semicrystalline materials) and/or a Mp (in case of a semi-crystalline or crystalline material) below the temperature provided in a pass of the printing process in the thermosetting polymeric powder composition resulted in a surprisingly huge improvement concerning flexibility and elasticity of the printed 3D products when compared to 3D products printed with the same composition lacking such thermoplastic material. It was found that such a thermoplast showed improved mixing abilities with the thermosetting polymer, providing for a more uniform composition and therefore also better properties of the printed 3D product.

[0028] If in connection with the present invention the term Tg and/or Mp is used, in case of a specific thermoplast which has neither a defined Tg nor a Mp, this term refers to the temperature at which during heating the first change of the dimensions of the thermoplast particle can be observed. Beside the applications in SLS, the powder composition according to the present invention can be used to produce 3D parts by utilizing other techniques, such as Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) or Selectiv Heat Sintering (SHS) or generally any 3D printing process where sufficient energy for at least partially curing the thermosetting material within the layer, at least partially crosslinking the thermosetting material with the previous layer and melting of the thermoplast is provided during each pass of a printing step.

[0029] The powder composition as used according to the present invention can be based on thermoset powder coating formulations already known in the state of the art, comprising curable polymeric binder powders, crosslinking (curing) agents, catalysts, accelerators, flow agents, absorbers, additives, fillers, plasticizers and pigments and can be modified to fulfill all material requirements for use in a 3D printing process. Objects produced with such thermosetting powder compositions according to the present invention could have applications in many fields, including the automotive and aircraft industry (especially regarding fiber reinforced composite components), where lightweight materials hold a key to achieving aggressive government-mandated fuel economy standards. Further applications for lightweight and high porosity printed 3D object and parts could be for instance the surface, base, membrane and/or lining of skis or generally any 3D sport tools requiring high porosity and light weight. The use of the thermosetting polymeric powder composition according to the present invention in a 3D printing process provides 3D articles having improved thermal stability, flexibility and elasticity since they comprise cured and crosslinked duroplasts together with at least one thermoplast and are therefore not meltable like 3D articles made solely of thermoplast.

[0030] During the melting/sintering step of the 3D printing process, part of the energy provided by the laser, or generally the printing head and/or any other energy device during each pass of the printing process is penetrating through the top layer and causes crosslinking reactions of the free functionalities left on the surface of the previously printed layer with free functionalities in the top layer and eventually also completing the inter-crosslinking within the previously printed layer, thereby improving the curing degree and also physical properties of the printed part. The energy density should not be too high to avoid polymer degradation, but still must be sufficient to provide for crosslinking between the printed layers, improving the curing degree of the previously printed layer and melting the thermoplast. The scanned section of powder from one layer can remain partially molten (partially crosslinked) while the next layer of powder is spread over the existing one. When the printhead scans this next layer and the heat affected zone reaches the full thickness of it, molten powder chemically reacts with molten powder (Fig. 1).

[0031] It is also possible to provide for free functionalities in each printed layer via the composition of the polymeric powder according to the present invention, for instance by providing an only non-stoichiometric amount of curing agent in each layer, or by way of the catalyst amount or activity, catalysts are employed, by the particle size distribution (heat absorption for melting is depending from particle size, which means that with bigger particles only a small amount of heat is left for curing within the same pass of the laser, or generally the printing head and/or any other energy device during the printing process) and also by the individual thickness of each printed layer.

[0032] The powder composition of each printed layer may still not be fully cured during the energy input of each pass of the printing process.

[0033] According to a preferred embodiment of the present invention, at least one of the thermoplasts present in the composition has functional groups able to react with the curable polymeric binder material.

[0034] Preferably the at least one thermoplast is/are present in an amount of up to 30 wt%, preferable between 5 and 20 wt% of the total composition, more preferable between 5 and 15 wt%. It has surprisingly been found that adding a thermoplast into the powder composition of the present invention results in an improvement of the flexibility of the cured thermoset powder.

[0035] According to a preferred embodiment of the present invention, the composition as used comprises in addition to the at least one curable polymeric binder material and the at least one thermoplast also at least one member of the group consisting of curing agent, catalyst, initiator, and mixtures thereof, which member is able to cure said polymeric binder material. The use of chemical crosslinking in the process according to the present invention also enables the production of high dense moldings, which are limited when using the amorphous thermoplastic systems according to the state of the art in for instance Selective Laser Sintering. Upon application requirements, the formulation of the curable polymeric binder material as used according to the present invention can be tailor made with the right curing agents and fillers to achieve high dense moldings.

[0036] The powder composition used according to the present invention may therefore comprise a curable polymeric binder material (a) and at least one curing agent (b), where (a) and (b) are able to react with each other to form a cured network. A catalyst and/or initiator (for UV-systems) may be added, either instead of or together with the curing agent, to initiate the curing reaction or to accelerate the reaction once started, depending on the specific chemistry of the reaction.

[0037] It is also preferred that the polymeric binder material is curable by polyaddition, and/or polycondensation and/or radical polymerization. Such curing mechanisms can also include a more specific polymerization.

[0038] Furthermore, another preferred embodiment of the present invention provides that the curable polymeric binder material is selected from the group comprising compounds with at least two functional groups comprising carbon-carbon double bonds, compounds with at least two epoxy functional groups, compounds with at least two carboxylic acid functional groups, compounds with at least two hydroxyl functional groups, compounds derived from acrylic acid or methacrylic acid and/or mixtures thereof. The curable polymeric binder material and the curing agent can thus for instance be selected from the group consisting of epoxy with amines, amides, amino, polyphenols, acid anhydrides, multifunctional acids; epoxy with phenolic resins, epoxy with carboxylated polyester (namely hybrid systems); carboxylated polyester with hydroxyalkylamide (HAA), triglycidylisocyanurat (TGIC), glycidylester-epoxyresins (hybrids); hydroxyl-terminated polyester with polyisocyanates (blocked isocyanate or uretdione); GMA-acrylate system (epoxy functional acrylic resins cured with dicarboxylic acids), carboxyl-acrylate (carboxylated acrylic resin cured with epoxy), hydroxyl-acrylate (hydroxyl functional acrylic resins cured with blocked isocyanates); unsaturated polyesters; polyurethane/urea; isocyanate/alcohol; reactive functional polyamides, carboxylated polyamide with epoxy, thermal and/or UV radical initiators, IR or UV curable polymers and/or mixtures of two or more of said compounds and/or systems.

[0039] Generally, the thermosetting polymeric powder composition utilized according to the present invention can also be based on known powder coating chemistry with curing mechanism or combinations thereof as described in the following:
  • Epoxy systems (Fig. 2), such as epoxy cured with amines, epoxy cured with acid anhydrides, epoxy cured with polyisocyanates and epoxy cured with phenolic resins. In all those systems, the curing process take place by an addition reaction. In Fig. 3 as enclosed the chemical structure of bisphenol A epoxy resin, which is often used in powder coating formulation and which can also be used according to the present invention as curable polymeric binder material in a powder composition for a Selective Laser Sintering process. Fig. 3a and 3b show the curing reactions of epoxy with typical curing agents, such as amine and acid anhydride.
  • Carboxylated polyester systems (Fig. 4), such as carboxylated polyester cured with triglycidylisocyanurat (TGIC) (Fig. 4a), hydroxyalkylamide (HAA) (Fig.4b), glycidylester (Fig.4c); carboxylated polyester cured epoxy resin, a hybrid system (Fig 4d); hydroxyl-terminated polyester cured with polyisocyanates (blocked isocyanate or uretdione) to form a polyurethane network (Fig.4e and Fig.4f).
  • Acrylic systems such as glycidyl methacrylate (GMA-acrylic, Fig.5) cured with polycarboxylic acid (e.g. dedecanedioic acid or acelainic acid) (Fig. 5a).
  • Unsaturated polyester systems where the crosslinking occurs via free radical polymerization with the use of peroxide catalyst or other thermal initiators. Also the curing via electromagnetic radiation like UV or electron beam alone or in combination with thermal initiators is possible.
  • Other crosslinkable materials such as vinyl ethers, bismaleimides, polyurethane/urea; isocyanate/alcohol; reactive functional polyamides, carboxylated polyamide with epoxy, IR crosslinkable polymers etc.


[0040] To form a three-dimensional cured polymeric network, the average functionality of the curable polymeric binder material as used according to the present invention must be greater than 2. If the functionality is less than 2, no curing can occur.

[0041] According to a preferred embodiment of the present invention, the curable polymeric binder material is contained in the thermosetting polymeric powder composition in less than 95 wt-%, more preferably with from 10 to 70 wt-%, particularly preferably with from 20 to 60 wt-%, of the total composition.

[0042] [Thermoplast] Thermoplast material to be used according to the present invention can be for example thermoplastic resin particles, core-shell polymer particles or rubber elastomer particles. Among these, thermoplastic resin particles or core-shell polymer particles are preferred. Such core-shell (multilayer) polymer particles comprise one or more copolymers and one or more types of core-shell particles or one or more copolymers which are at least partially composed of rubbers with low glass transition temperatures. The core-shell polymer particles have an average particle diameter of 0.01 to 15 µm, preferable 0.01 to 10 µm and a agglomerated size of between 5-50 µm with a core Tg of about -40 °C or lower and a shell Tg of between about 100 °C and 120 °C. Examples of the core-shell polymer particles include STAPHYLOID® products, which are agglomerated powder of core/shell type, fine particles produced by emulsion polymerization of butadiene, acrylates, styrene monomer such as STAPHYLOID AC3832, STAPHYLOID AC4030 or STAPHYLOID AC3364. Other examples of core shell polymer particles which can be used according to the present invention are KUREHA products, PARALOIDTM impact modifiers and Albidur® products.

[0043] Generally, thermoplastic materials to be used according to the present invention, depending on the temperature provided in each pass of the printing step, preferably have a melting temperature of between 50 °C and 200 °C, preferably between 100 and 150 °C and preferably a melt viscosity of 10 to 500 Pas, more preferably 50 to 250 Pas and most preferably 90 to 150 Pas when tested according to ISO 1133 at 160 °C using 2,16 kg load. In case of a pure amorphous thermoplastic material, the Tg of the amorphous material is preferably below 90 °C and more preferably below 70 °C. The thermoplastic material used according to the present invention preferably has a weight-average molecular weight MW of 10000 to 120000, more preferably 20000 to 50000. The thermoplastic material used can be polyurethanes, copolyesters or copolyamides. For example, suitable polymers and copolymers are commercially available under the tradename Griltex, from EMS-Griltex, Switzerland, for instance Griltex 11A, Griltex D1365E, Griltex 1513E, Griltex D2315E, Griltex 1582E can be used according to the present invention.

[0044] The powder composition used according to the present invention can be reinforced with fibers, eg. whisker fiber SiC, carbon fibers, glass fibers with a diameter between 0,5 µm to 10 µm and with a length between 1 and 150 µm, preferably 10 to 50 µm. The fibers are preferably made out of ceramic materials, for example silicon carbide (Si-C) microfibers and fibers available under the tradename Si-TUFF (SC-050, SC-110, SC-210, SC-300, SC-310 and S -320) with different functional groups and with different diameters and lengths ranging from 10 to 50 µm can be used to reinforce the mechanical properties of the cured 3D duroplast.

[0045] [Catalyst] Catalyst can also be used according to the present invention. Generally, a catalyst is a compound that increases the speed of a chemical reaction without being consumed in the reaction. The addition of a suitable catalyst decreases the gelation time and can lower the bake temperature needed to achieve acceptable cure of the powder composition used according to the present invention. Catalysts are very specific to a chemical reaction and can be selected from the group comprising Lewis base (e.g. imidazole), ammonium salt, cyclic amidine, Lewis acid complex, amino-phenolic, zinc oxide, amine type, onium, dimethyl stearyl amine, stannous octoate, dibutyl tin dilaurate, dibutyl tin oxide, sulfonic acid/amine, peroxide, etc. Catalysts are typically incorporated at relatively low levels of between 0.1-2 wt-%, depending on how effective the catalyst is. However, higher concentration could also be possible.

[0046] [Initiator] Also initiators can be used according to the present invention. In contrast to a catalyst, an initiator is consumed in the reaction. The choice of a suitable initiator depends on the powder composition used according to the present invention and is within the knowledge of a person skilled in the art.

[0047] In some cases and again depending on the powder composition as used according to the present invention, a mixture of curing agent, catalyst and/or initiator may be used.

[0048] [Absorber] A sufficient capability of the curable polymeric binder material to absorb energy at present laser wavelength (e.g. for the CO2 laser at 10.6 µm) is necessary for use in the SLS process. This is apparent for most polymers, as they consist of aliphatic compounds (C-H). Those polymers have, in the majority of cases, some group vibrations in the "fingerprint" infrared region sufficient to absorb relevant portions of 10.6 µm radiation. In the case of a poor absorption capability, an increase of laser energy power can compensate the effect. However, high laser power could also cause polymer decomposition, therefore in order to compensate this effect, absorbers can be added to the powder composition as used according to the present invention.

[0049] The powder composition can also comprise an absorber yielding a desired absorption at a wavelength optimal for laser curing. The absorber may for instance be adapted to absorb at the wave length of 10.6 µm specific for the CO2 laser. The absorber can be blended together with the polymeric powder composition as used according to the present invention. An example of an absorber is carbon black, specifically for SLS processes using electromagnetic radiation in the IR range. While carbon black is a preferred IR absorber, other pigments such as iron oxide or quinoid rylenedicarboximides can also be used.

[0050] [Filler] The powder composition according to the present invention may also include filler materials. The particulate fillers represent from 10 to 50 wt-% of the total composition, and preferably from 20 to 30 wt-%. The filler materials may include or consist of inert fillers or active fillers and can for instance be selected from the group of carbonate-based mineral fillers, magnesium carbonate, calcium carbonate, barium sulphate, dolomite, kaolin, talc, micro-mica, alumina hydrate, wollastonite, montmorillonite, zeolite, perlite, nano fillers, pigments, such as titanium dioxide, anatase tinanium dioxide, transition metal oxides, graphite, carbon black, silica, alumina, phosphate, borate, silicate and organic fillers, such as polymer powders, like copolymers, elastomers and thermoplastics, used alone or as a mixture of two or more of these materials. Also the waste powder of powder coatings production (cured or uncured) and of 3D printing processes according to the invention could be used as fillers depending on the product requirements.

[0051] [Flow agent] In order to improve melt flow during production of the moldings, a flow agent can be added to the thermosetting polymeric powder composition used according to the present invention. Preferably this flow agent is of substantially spherical shape. The flow agent can for instance be an inorganic powdered substance having a particle size of less than 20 microns, preferably less than 10 microns, selected from the group consisting of hydrated silicas, amorphous alumina, glassy silicas, glassy phosphates, glassy borates, glassy oxides, titania, talc, mica, fumed silicas, kaolin, attapulgite, calcium silicates, alumina, magnesium silicates and/or mixtures thereof. The flow agent is present only in an amount sufficient to cause the resin powder to flow and level during the layer by layer process employed in the 3D printing process. It is preferred that the thermosetting polymeric powder composition used according to the present invention comprises less than 5 wt-%, more preferably from 0.05 to 2 wt-%, particularly preferably from 0.05 to 1 wt-% of the total composition.

[0052] The thermosetting polymeric powder composition used according to the present invention preferably comprises at least one amorphous polymer binder, and maybe one or more (semi-) crystalline polymer powder binder, preferably from 0 to 49 wt-% of the total binder content, as an option, preferably together with other additives to adjust the melt viscosity of the system. Amorphous polymer binders are able to produce parts with very good dimensional accuracy, feature resolution and surface finish, depending on the grain size of the powder.

[0053] [Particle grain size] largely affects the precision and density of each 3D printing process. A smaller particle size is favorable for building a higher precision to the molding. On the other hand, a too small particle size of the polymeric powder composition will make it difficult to spread the powder because it causes the powder to self-reunite. Considering the cost of milling, the precision and the density of 3D moldings, and the difficulty of spreading powder, a main particle size of the thermosetting polymeric powder composition of 1 to 250 µm, preferably 20 to 100 µm, and more preferably 40 to 80 µm is chosen.

[0054] The production process of the thermosetting polymeric powder composition used according to the present invention, mainly the milling process, requires resin (polymeric binder material) components with rather high softening temperatures. The glass transition temperatures of the polymeric binder materials used according to the present invention should preferably be above 40 °C, otherwise the materials would fuse during the milling process or would need cryogenic milling. Selection of the polymeric binder material for the invented powder composition is preferably restricted by this condition. This property generally results in a relatively hard (brittle) cured polymer so that it is necessary to cure the polymeric binder material effectively, in order to balance and provide for flexibility of the produced molding to optimum levels.

[0055] The particles of the thermosetting polymeric powder composition used according to the present invention are not allowed to agglomerate. The finer the particles are, the higher the effects of surface energy are. If the particles are very fine, some agglomerated amounts are no longer able to be fluidized. That results in forming specks and leveling defects in films produced.

[0056] The number average molecular weight of the polymeric binder material, without the thermoplast, used according to the present invention is preferably in the range of 1,000 to 15,000 Dalton, more preferably in the range of 1,500 to 7,500 Dalton. Mechanical properties of the curable polymeric binder material, such as flexibility and impact strength, are mostly dependent on the number average molecular weight (Mn), while viscosity is a function of the weight average molecular weight (Mw). To maximize the physical properties and retain a low melt viscosity, the polydispersity (Mw/Mn) should approach unity. The molecular weight of the curable polymeric binder material used according to the present invention will influence the Tg of the binder material. As already mentioned, the Tg of the polymeric binder material used according to the present invention should be at least 40 °C, preferably higher. The Tg must be high enough to resist sintering and agglomeration during - maybe cooled - storage and shipping of the powder, but low enough to promote maximum flow and leveling.

[0057] The present invention also comprises a 3D printing process, preferably a SLS process, in which the thermosetting polymeric powder composition mentioned in this description is used.

[0058] Preferably, in order to support fluidization of the thermosetting polymeric powder composition used according to the present invention, additives are added and/or, for example, the particle surfaces of the powder composition are covered with nano-particles. The composition used for 3D printing should have low melt viscosity, therefore polymeric ingredients of the powder composition used according to the present invention are preferably selected not only to have relatively high glass transition temperatures of above 40 °C, but also to have low average molecular masses. Crystalline polymers can be added to the composition to optimize the melt viscosity because they have relatively sharp melting temperature and low melt viscosity.

[0059] The powder compositions used according to the present invention have only a short time after melting to coalesce and flow before crosslinking starts. Therefore, the melt viscosity, functionality and reaction rate of the polymeric binder material must be carefully controlled.

[0060] In the SLS process for instance, the part bed is first pre-heated by the heating system to a temperature referred to as part bed temperature (Tb). Part distortion and laser power can be decreased by operating Tb at the highest temperature possible, but not above the softening temperature points (Ts) of the polymers contained in the powder composition as used, otherwise polymer powders will stick together and be not freely flowable.

[0061] Amorphous polymers, as they are preferably used in the present invention as curable polymeric binder material, exhibit a glass transition temperature (Tg) below which they are solid. Depending on their particle size and molecular weight, amorphous polymers are during the 3D printing process preheated to a temperature near Tg and will then melt if the temperature further rises above Tg. Above Tg, amorphous polymers become first leathery or rubbery and then liquid. Therefore, Ts of amorphous polymer is Tg. The brittleness temperature Tb should be kept close to Tg but not beyond Tg, otherwise the particles of amorphous polymer powders will stick together and distributing the powder will become difficult. Therefore, Tb is set closely above Tg, which can be obtained from its DSC curves.

[0062] In the SLS process, laser radiation, in particular CO2 laser light with a wavelength of about 10.6 µm, is used to selectively sinter/melt the thermosetting polymeric powder composition, thereby converting the layer into a liquid phase. Under the heat produced by laser absorption, also the curing (crosslinking) reactions occur within the selected area, thus providing for an at least partial curing/crosslinking of this layer, curing/crosslinking this layer with/to the previously printed layer, and leaving free functionalities in this layer for enabling curing/crosslinking of this layer with the next printed layer. Locally, full coalescence of the particles in the top powder layer is necessary, as well as adhesion (via curing/crosslinking reactions) with previously printed layers. Such localized curing can be optimized by carefully chosen processing conditions, thermoconductivity of the sample and the mixture of reactants. Preferably, a scanning system along with a preferably automated control of laser parameters is used, including control of laser power, pulse repetition rate, scanning frequency, scanning speed and size of laser beam. Regarding the powder material according to the present invention used, the degree of curing (crosslinking) during formation of each layer can be for example controlled by the amount of curing agent present in the material, the resin to hardener ratio, the amount of catalyst, if any, present, the particle size distribution PSD as well as by the thickness of each printed layer. Providing for only a partial curing (crosslinking) when printing one layer leaves free functionalities, thus enabling curing/crosslinking of this layer with the immediately previously printed layer as well as with the next printed layer.

[0063] During each step of the 3D printing process, the mixture of the powdered thermosetting polymeric powder composition is applied to the target area in a range of thickness of preferably from 100 to 200 µm, more preferably 100 µm. Once the powder layer is leveled to form a smooth surface, depending on the 3D printing process used, it is exposed to a short burst of energy, for example in case of an SLS process exposed to radiation from a typically 50 watt (up to 200 watt) CO2 laser with a wavelength of preferably 10.6 µm. The focused beam diameter is preferably between 400 to 700 µm to confine the heating of sample to a reasonably small region. When the energy of the laser is kept constant at eg. 50 watts, the intensity of the exposure can be controlled by varying the scan rate, which can be adjusted from 0 mm/s up to 12,000 mm/s, and which preferably is set between 2,000 to 6,000 mm/s at laser intensities in the rage of 100 to 800 J/cm3.

[0064] If the laser, or generally the printing head and/or any other energy device, is scanned too quickly over the sample, curing may not be achieved at all because any one spot does not absorb sufficient energy to initiate curing. The other extreme is when the scanning speed is too low, then the spot would be overheated and the deposited energy would spread outward from the irradiated area, thus curing a greater area than desired. It is within the knowledge of a person skilled in the art to choose from the above mentioned parameters in a way to provide for a suitable degree of curing during formation of each layer as well as to leave free functionalities within the layer for curing/crosslinking with the next layer.

[0065] In case of a 3D printing process involving the use of a laser beam and when working with a material which does not absorb laser energy as strongly, the absorption depth may exceed the depth of focus of the laser beam. For this case, it is likely that the depth of focus will be the factor which most determines the confinement of laser energy in the direction normal to the sample surface. Beyond the depth of focus, the laser energy would decrease sufficiently that curing would no longer be induced.

[0066] The laser spacing (hatch spacing) is usually less than the laser beam diameter. Cross-section of the molding may not be sintered if the laser spacing is too far, presently the laser spacing is normally in the range between 200 and 300 µm and preferred to be 200 µm. Each pass of laser causes the thermosetting polymeric powder composition to fuse and to initiate curing. With each successive pass of the laser beam, the film then formed is also first fused, simultaneously curing is initiated within the film, and additionally the film is also crosslinked with the film formed during the previous pass. This process is repeated layer by layer until the desired 3D object is completed.

[0067] Post curing, that is an additional heat treatment step of the finished 3D object, might be necessary if the end use of printed parts requires high performance while the object is also required to possess high resolution and dimensional accuracy with complex detailed structures of the printed parts. It was found that by the process according to the present invention when using known 3D printing techniques, it is possible to obtain a curing degree of the finished 3D object of higher than 90 %, such objects showing high mechanical strength, however only low resolution and low dimensional and/or geometric accuracy. When using post curing, that is an additional heat treatment step of the finished 3D object, printed parts with high strength, good performance and still high resolution and good dimensional accuracy can be obtained.

[0068] Post curing can for instance be performed in a programmable Thermoconcept KM 20/13 chamber oven. Best results without part deformation where obtained when using a temperature ramp from 50 to 140 °C with a rate of 5 to 10 °C/h, then treatment may be continued at 140 °C for min 2h (see example 7 to 9 below). Other post curing conditions and/or apparatus can also be used.

Test methods



[0069] The tensile properties (tensile strength, tensile modulus and elongation at break) were measured according to DIN EN ISO 527 on a Zwick/Roell Z100 universal testing machine equipped with a load cell of 5 kN. Crosshead speed was 1 mm/min for the determination of E Modulus, which was obtained by linear regression in the strain range between 0.1 and 0.25%. After reaching 0.25% strain, the crosshead speed was increased to 50 mm/min for the remainder of the test.

[0070] Differential Scanning Calorimetry (DSC) measurements of the parts were performed with a Mettler-Toledo DSC 30 with sample weights between 7 and 10 mg. Samples were heated under nitrogen atmosphere from 25 to 300 °C with 20 °C/min for the curing degree evaluation.

Examples


Comparative Example 1



[0071] The mixture was composed of 600 parts of Uralac® P3490 (DSM), a saturated carboxylated polyester resin, 45 parts of Araldite® PT-910 (Huntsman), 320 parts of Titanium dioxide (Kronos® 2160, Kronos Titan GmbH), 15 parts of Resiflow PV 5 (Worlée-Chemie GmbH), 8 parts of Accelerator DT-3126 (Huntsman) and 7 parts of Benzoin. All components were premixed in a high-speed mixer for 1 min and then extruded in a twin-screw ZSK-18 extruder at a screw speed of 400 rpm with a rear-zone temperature of 80 °C and a front-zone temperature of 90 °C. In an alternative setting of the extruder, a temperature gradient of 40 to 100 °C and a cooling device for the feeding area was used. The compound obtained was then cooled down, granulated and fine ground to obtain a powder having a D50 of less than 80 µm. The powder can be used in a 3D printer, for example in a SLS laser sintering 3D-printing machine.

Comparative Example 2



[0072] The mixture was composed of 600 parts of Uralac® P3490, 45 parts of Araldite® PT-910 (Huntsman), 15 parts of Resiflow PV 5 (Worlée-Chemie GmbH), 8 parts of Accelerator DT-3126 (Huntsman), 7 parts of Benzoin and 10 parts of short carbon fibers. The carbon fibers used had an average length of 60 µm and can be obtained under the product designation Tenax®-A HAT M100 (Toho Tenax Europe GmbH). All components were premixed in a high-speed mixer for 1 min and then extruded in a twin-screw ZSK-18 extruder at a screw speed of 400 rpm with a rear-zone temperature of 90 °C and a front-zone temperature of 100 °C. In an alternative setting of the extruder, a temperature gradient of 40 to 100 °C and a cooling device for the feeding area was used. The compound obtained was then cooled down, granulated and fine ground to obtain a powder having a D50 of less than 100 µm. The powder can be used in a 3D printer, for example in a SLS laser sintering 3D-printing machine.

Comparative Example 3



[0073] The mixture was composed of 500 parts Uralac® P 1580 (DSM), a saturated OH-polyester resin, 215 parts of Vestagon® B 1530 (Evonik), 15 parts of Resiflow PV 5 (Worlée-Chemie GmbH) and 7 parts of Benzoin. All components were premixed in a high-speed mixer for 1 min and then extruded in a twin-screw ZSK-18 extruder at a screw speed of 400 rpm with a rear-zone temperature of 90 °C and a front-zone temperature of 100 °C. In an alternative setting of the extruder, a temperature gradient of 40 to 100 °C and a cooling device for the feeding area was used. The compound obtained was then cooled down, granulated and fine ground to obtain a powder having a D50 of less than 100 µm. The powder can be used in a 3D printer, for example in a SLS laser sintering 3D-printing machine.

Comparative Example 4



[0074] The mixture was composed of 790 parts Uralac® P 6401 (DSM), a saturated carboxylated polyester resin, 60 parts of TGIC (Huntsmann), 15 parts of Resiflow PV 5 (Worlée-Chemie GmbH), 5 parts of Benzoin and 350 parts of Titanium dioxide (Kronos® 2160, Kronos Titan GmbH). All components were premixed in a high-speed mixer for 1 min and then extruded in a twin-screw ZSK-18 extruder at a screw speed of 400 rpm with a rear-zone temperature of 90 °C and a front-zone temperature of 100 °C. In an alternative setting of the extruder, a temperature gradient of 40 to 100 °C and a cooling device for the feeding area was used. The compound obtained was then cooled down, granulated and fine ground to obtain a powder having a D50 of less than 100 µm. The powder can be used in a 3D printer, for example in a SLS laser sintering 3D-printing machine.

Comparative Example 5



[0075] The mixture was composed of 350 parts of Uralac® P 3450 (DSM), a saturated carboxylated polyester resin, 150 parts of Araldite® GT 7004 (Huntsmann), 7 parts of Resiflow PV 5 (Worlée-Chemie GmbH), 4 parts of Benzoin and 230 parts of Titanium dioxide (Kronos® 2160, Kronos Titan GmbH). All components were premixed in a high-speed mixer for 1 min and then extruded in a twin-screw ZSK-18 extruder at a screw speed of 400 rpm with a rear-zone temperature of 90 °C and a front-zone temperature of 100 °C. In an alternative setting of the extruder, a temperature gradient of 40 to 100 °C and a cooling device for the feeding area was used. The compound obtained was then cooled down, granulated and fine ground to obtain a powder having a D50 of less than 100 µm. The powder can be used in a 3D printer, for example in a SLS laser sintering 3D-printing machine.

Comparative Example 6



[0076] The mixture was composed of 350 parts of UVECOAT 2100 (Allnex), an unsaturated polyester resin, 13 parts of photo initiators, 6 parts of MODAFLOW® Powder 6000, 2 parts of Benzoin. All components were premixed in a high-speed mixer for 1 min and then extruded in a twin-screw ZSK-18 extruder at a screw speed of 400 rpm with a rear-zone temperature of 90 °C and a front-zone temperature of 100 °C. In an alternative setting of the extruder, zone temperatures of 40/60/80/100/90 °C and a cooling device for the feeding area was used. The compound obtained was then cooled down, granulated and fine ground to obtain a powder having a D50 of less than 80 µm. The powder can be used in a 3D printer, for example in a SLS laser sintering 3D-printing machine.

Comparative Example 7



[0077] The mixture was composed of 440 parts of Crylcoat 1506-6 (Allnex), a saturated polyester resin, 290 parts of Araldite® GT7220 (Huntsman), 25 parts of Reafree C4705-10 (Arkema), 10 parts of Eutomer B31 (Eutec Chemical), 15 parts of Powderadd 9083 (Lubrizol), 2 parts of Tinuvin 144 (BASF), 230 parts of Titan Tiona RCL 696 (Cristal). All components were premixed in a high-speed mixer for 1 min and then extruded in a twin-screw ZSK-18 extruder at a screw speed of 600 rpm with zone temperatures of 40/60/80/100/90 °C and a cooling device for the feeding area. The compound obtained was then cooled down, granulated and fine ground to obtain a powder having a D50 of less than 100 µm. The powder can be used in a 3D printer, for example in a SLS laser sintering 3D-printing machine.

Example 8



[0078] The mixture was composed of 440 parts of Crylcoat 1506-6 (Allnex), a saturated polyester resin, 290 parts of Araldite® GT7220 (Huntsman), 25 parts of Reafree C4705-10 (Arkema), 10 parts of Eutomer B31 (Eutec Chemical), 15 parts of Powderadd 9083 (Lubrizol), 2 parts of Tinuvin 144 (BASF), 230 parts of Titan Tiona RCL 696 (Cristal), and 10 parts of thermoplastic (Staphyloid 3832), which are core-shell multilayer organic fine particles. All components were premixed in a high-speed mixer for 1 min and then extruded in a twin-screw ZSK-18 extruder at a screw speed of 600 rpm with zone temperatures of 40/60/80/100/90 °C and a cooling device for the feeding area. The compound obtained was then cooled down, granulated and fine ground to obtain a powder having a D50 of less than 100 µm. The powder can be used in a 3D printer, for example in a SLS laser sintering 3D-printing machine.

Example 9



[0079] The mixture was composed of 440 parts of Crylcoat 1506-6 (Allnex), a saturated polyester resin, 290 parts of Araldite® GT7220 (Huntsman), 25 parts of Reafree C4705-10 (Arkema), 10 parts of Eutomer B31 (Eutec Chemical), 15 parts of Powderadd 9083 (Lubrizol), 2 parts of Tinuvin 144 (BASF), 230 parts of Titan Tiona RCL 696 (Cristal), and with 5 parts of Si-C micron fibers (Si-TUFF, SC 210). All components were premixed in a high-speed mixer for 1 min and then extruded in a twin-screw ZSK-18 extruder at a screw speed of 600 rpm with zone temperatures of 40/60/80/100/90 °C and a cooling device for the feeding area. The compound obtained was then cooled down, granulated and fine ground to obtain a powder (reinforced with whisker fiber Si-C) having a D50 of less than 100 µm. The powder can be used in a 3D printer, for example in a SLS laser sintering 3D-printing machine.

Example 10: Production of thermosetting 3D parts by using the SLS process



[0080] The powders of examples 1-7 were used to produce 3D articles (Fig. 6) using a SLS process as following: Each of the powder of examples 1-7 was applied to the build surface stage in a DTM Sinterstation 2000 (DTM Corporation, Austin, TX, USA). During each step of the SLS process, the powder of examples 1-7 were applied to the target area in a range of thickness of 100 µm. Once the powder layer has been leveled to form a smooth surface, it was exposed to radiation from a 10-30 W CO2 laser with a wavelength of 10.6 µm at a scanning speed of about 2,500 to 5,000 mm/s, 2 to 4 scan counts and with a scan spacing of between 0.2 and 0.3 mm. The powder had a sufficient to good flowability, resulting in a smooth and leveled powder bed, where the part bed temperature was in the range from 50 °C to 80 °C; no curling occurred in this range.

[0081] The energy input required for the production of parts was between 10 and 40 W. The parts sintered at the highest energy input indicate satisfactory properties after SLS processing. As already mentioned, by varying the energy input the curing degree can be varied.

[0082] Fig.7 demonstrates the results of printing three identical 3D parts using the powder composition according to the present invention, the parts having a total built height of 5.76 mm and being produced with the above-mentioned SLS DTM Sinterstation 2000 using three different process parameters:
  1. (a) the part was produced with an energy density of 25.2 kJ/m2 (252 J/cm3), laser power 16W, 2 scan counts, scanning speed 5,000 mm/s,
  2. (b) the part was produced with a higher energy density of 31.5 kJ/m2 (315 J/cm3), laser power 10W, 2 scan counts, scanning speed 2,500 mm/s and
  3. (c) the part was produced with an energy density of also 31.5 kJ/m2 (315 J/cm3), laser power 10W, but 4 scan counts, scanning speed 5,000 mm/s.


[0083] The parts thus built were strong enough to be sandblasted though, which allowed for easy removal of powder. Most delicate features survived. Parts (b) and (c) show better results with slits and holes being open, which is a key indicator for good part resolution. Increasing lateral growth in Z direction was observed. The surface of the part sintered at 2 scan counts x 10W at a low scanning speed 2,500 mm/s (b) was smoother and showed less errors than the part sintered at 4 scan counts x 10W at a high scanning speed 5,000 mm/s (c). The edges of the parts were quite round rather than sharp. With higher energy density obtained from process conditions of (b) and (c) the curing degree of the parts produced after SLS process reached about 47% while (a) reached only about 21% of curing degree calculated from DSC experiments.

[0084] It can be seen that by controlling the degree of curing (crosslinking) during formation of each layer only a partial curing (crosslinking) when printing one layer can be provided, which leaves free functionalities. Such free functionalities then enable a curing/crosslinking of this layer with the immediately previously printed layer and, once the next layer is printed, with this next printed layer.

Example 11: SLS production of the thermosetting 3D parts made out of powders described in Example 8, Example 9 and the comparative Example 7 and their mechanical properties.



[0085] SLS build setup and parameters for examples 7, 8 and 9 are shown in Table 1.
The parts were built on a DTM Sinterstation 2000 commercial laser sintering machine. This build contained one multifunctional part for the evaluation of resolution, detailed structures, dimensional accuracy and smoothness of the printed part and ISO 527-1 tensile bars for mechanical properties. Both were sintered with process parameters using two different settings, namely set 1 and set 2 as listed in Table 1. Tensile properties were measured according to ISO 527-1 after a post-curing process as described above.

[0086] To balance powder bed caking with curling, the temperature profile was chosen such that the part bed temperature was 70 °C during sintering of the first few layers of the parts. The temperature then was gradually reduced to 67 °C.
Table 1. Scanning parameters for parts in runs with set 1 and 2
Set #Laser powerScan speedScan spacingScan countLayer thicknessEnergy densityPart bed temp
[-][W][mm/s][mm][-][mm][J/cm3][°C]
1 20 5000 0.3 2 0.1 267 70
2 20 5000 0.2 1 0.1 200 70


[0087] Parts printed using the composition of examples 7, 8 and 9 using set 1 and 2 parameters are shown in Fig.8. Such parts are stable and can be sandblasted at low pressure, the surfaces are smooth. The contours of the parts are sharp and the resolution is good.

[0088] Interestingly it has been found that there are distinct differences between the surfaces of parts sintered when using the composition of example 8 with parameter sets 1 and 2. During sandblasting, a few thin parts of the top layer of the part built with parameter set 2 (single scan) were stripped away (Fig. 9). Also, fewer vertical walls were left standing. Both these observations indicate that the interlayer adhesion for these parts is much worse compared to the parts compared with parameter set 1 (double scans).

[0089] Despite some slight surface imperfections of the parameter set 2 parts (made using the compositions of example 8 and 9), all parts exhibited sharp contours and good resolution. The measured dimensional deviations were less than 5%. Parameter set 1 nonetheless seems to provide for both cases of example 8 and 9 an optimal mix between part accuracy and initial, pre-curing mechanical properties.

[0090] For the best performing parts from runs using set 1 and 2, an E-Modulus of approximately 1800 MPa is measured, as well as a tensile strength of almost 39 MPa. Typical values for PA12 published at TDS of DuraForm® PA Plastic are 1586 MPa and 43 MPa respectively and 14% elongation at break. Values published in US 9 233 505 B2 are 1550 MPa and 46 MPa, respectively, and 12% for elongation at break. In terms of strength and stiffness, post-cured parts printed from the composition of example 7 are similar, or even better than PA12 parts. With only a few percent strain, the elongation at break of parts printed from the composition of example 7 however is relatively low, which is a typical characteristic of the cured thermoset system according to the present invention.

[0091] Therefore, thermoplastic modifiers and Si-C fibers were utilized when printing parts using the composition of example 8 and example 9, respectively, in order to improve the flexibility.

[0092] The average values of tensile properties and their associated standard deviations for of parts printed from the composition of examples 8 and 9 and comparative example 7 are shown in Table 2.
Table 2. Tensile properties of parts printed from the composition of example 8, 9 and comparative example 7
Sample designationE-Modulus [MPa]Ultimate tensile strength [MPa]Strain at break [%]
Example 7 set 1 1824 ± 148 38.8 ± 0.3 3.3 ± 0.01
Example 7 set 2 1771 ± 134 34.7 ± 3.1 3.06 ± 0.3
       
Example 8 set 1 1335 ± 20 31.6 ± 0.6 13.2 ± 1.9
Example 8 set 2 1225 ± 53 28.0 ± 1.6 8.7 ± 1.2
       
Example 9 set 1 2154 ± 25 43.6 ± 0.7 8.32 ± 0.6
Example 9 set 2 2100 ± 33 40.7 ± 0.7 8.9 ± 1.29
       
DuraForm® PA 1586 43 14
       


[0093] The addition of the thermoplastic modifier has a clear effect on the stiffness and strength of the material. A very clear difference was observed between the mechanical properties of parts printed from the composition of example 7 and parts printed from the composition of the thermoplastic modified example 8. Both E-Modulus and ultimate tensile strength are down for the modified material, while elongation at break is increased impressively from 3.3 % for the neat material (example 7), to 13.2 %, 4 times improvement for the modified material (example 8). This is a strong indication of the active effect of adding the thermoplastic polymer powder according to the present invention.

[0094] The difference in resulting mechanical properties as an effect of chosen process parameters is somewhat larger for parts printed from the composition of example 8 than for using the composition of comparative example 7, especially when the strain at break is concerned.

[0095] The addition of the SiC fibers has overall positive effect on the stiffness and strength and flexibility of the material compared to parts printed from the composition of comparative example 7. The elongation at break shows the most drastic increase. Both E-Modulus and ultimate tensile strength were increased by roughly 15 % for the reinforced material, though elongation at break increased impressively from 3.3 % for the neat material, to 8.4 % for the SiC modified material.

[0096] In summary, the scanning and temperature parameters chosen for printing the composition of comparative example 7 also proved suitable for printing the compositions of example 8 and example 9. The best parameter set was found to be the one with the highest energy density (267 J/cm3), also double scanning proved to be favorable in case of the compositions of examples 7 to 9. For these parts, both the best surface and mechanical properties were obtained.


Claims

1. Use of a thermosetting polymeric powder composition in a 3D printing process to produce a 3D duroplast, wherein the composition comprises at least one curable polymeric binder material and at least one thermoplast having a Tg and/or Mp below the temperature provided in a pass of the printing process and wherein during each pass of the printing process said polymeric binder material is at least partially cured within the layer thus formed and also at least partially crosslinked with the previous layer.
 
2. Use according to claim 1, characterized in that at least one of the thermoplasts present in the composition has functional groups able to react with the polymeric binder material.
 
3. Use according to claims 1 or 2, characterized in that the at least one thermoplast is/are present in an amount of up to 30 wt%, preferable between 5 and 20 wt% of the total composition, more preferable between 5 and 15 wt%.
 
4. Use according to any of claims 1 to 3, characterized in that the composition comprises at least one curable polymeric binder material, at least one thermoplast and at least one member of the group consisting of curing agent, catalyst, initiator, and mixtures thereof, which member is able to cure said polymeric binder material.
 
5. Use according to any of claims 1 to 4, characterized in that the polymeric binder material is curable by polyaddition, and/or polycondensation and/or radical polymerization.
 
6. Use according to any of claims 1 to 5, characterized in that the curable polymeric binder material is selected from the group comprising compounds with at least two epoxy functional groups, compounds with at least two carboxylic acid functional groups, compounds with at least two hydroxyl functional groups, compounds derived from acrylic acid or methacrylic acid and/or mixtures thereof.
 
7. Use according to any of claims 1 to 6, characterized in that the curable polymeric binder ma-terial is present in the thermosetting polymeric powder composition in 95 wt-% or less, more preferably in from 10 to 70 wt-%, particularly preferably in from 20 to 60 wt-%, of the total composition.
 
8. Use according to any of claims 1 to 7, characterized in that at least one of the thermoplasts present in the composition has a melting temperature of between 50 °C and 200 °C, preferably between 100 and 150 °C.
 
9. Use according to any of claims 1 to 8, characterized in that at least one of the thermoplasts present in the composition has a melt viscosity of 10 to 500 Pas, more preferably 50 to 250 Pas and most preferably 90 to 150 Pas when tested according to ISO 1133 at 160 °C using 2,16 Kg load.
 
10. Use according to any of claims 1 to 9, characterized in that the at least one thermoplast present in the composition is a pure amorphous thermoplastic material with a Tg preferably below 90 °C, more preferably below 70 °C.
 
11. Use according to any of claims 1 to 10, characterized in that the curable polymeric binder material comprises at least one amorphous polymer binder.
 
12. Use according to any of claims 1 to 11, characterized in that the thermosetting polymeric powder composition has a particle size of 1 to 250 µm, preferably from 20 to 100 µm, and particularly preferably from 40 to 80 µm.
 
13. Use according to any of claims 1 to 12, characterized in that the glass transition temperature of the polymeric binder material is at least 40 °C, preferably higher.
 
14. Use according to any of claims 1 to 13, characterized in that the number average molecular weight of the polymeric binder material without the thermoplast is in the range of 1,000 to 15,000 D, more preferably in the range of 1,500 to 7,500 Dalton.
 
15. 3D printing process, characterized in that a thermosetting polymeric powder composition according to one of claims 1 to 14 is used.
 




Drawing









































REFERENCES CITED IN THE DESCRIPTION



This list of references cited by the applicant is for the reader's convenience only. It does not form part of the European patent document. Even though great care has been taken in compiling the references, errors or omissions cannot be excluded and the EPO disclaims all liability in this regard.

Patent documents cited in the description




Non-patent literature cited in the description