New 3-D Printing Technique to Create Ceramics could help build Next-Gen Spaceships

New 3-D Printing Technique to Create Ceramics could help build Next-Gen Spaceships

From past long time engineers have liked ceramic parts for the strong, light weight and better heat handle properties. Ceramic is ideal for crafting parts of airplanes and rockets and is used in making heat-shielding tiles on the space shuttle. As per the new report, researchers have used a 3-D printer to make customized ceramic parts that have also overcome the Achilles’ heel of ceramic objects: their tendency to crack. The findings could help create a new class of ceramic-body or ceramic-engine jets, perhaps even a hypersonic craft that can fly from New York to Tokyo in a few hours.

Tobias Schaedler, senior scientist at HRL Laboratories in Malibu, Calif., ceramics is considered as the best material that can withstand intense heat during the space fly. Tobias said that when any vehicle passes through at the speed 10 times the speed of sound within the atmosphere, then the vehicle is expected to heat up due to air friction. In building of hypersonic vehicles, ceramics will be considered as the best material for the whole shell of vehicle. Schaedler and colleagues at HRL invented a resin formulation that can be 3-D printed into parts of virtually any shape and size. The printed resin can then be fired, converting it into a high strength, fully dense ceramic. The resulting material can withstand ultrahigh temperatures in excess of 1,700 degrees Celsius (3,092 Fahrenheit) and is 10 times stronger than similar materials.

Despite of the benefits, the biggest challenge with ceramics is that they are difficult to work with as compared to plastics or metals because they cannot be cast or machined easily. But, the interesting thing is that Schaedler and the team has found out the way to trick ceramics into behaving like plastic. The big picture is that the new technique could help scientists design rockets and satellites that have to face intense heat during high velocity air friction. Charlie Spahr, executive director of the American Ceramics Council, a form of ceramic called alumina is being used in new ion propulsion drive, which uses electricity to heat gas and generate ions.

According to a report from the Engadget, despite being able to build just about anything with 3D printing, until now items have been limited to polymer plastics, a handful of metals and glass. However, researchers at HRL Laboratories have announced a significant advancement in additive manufacturing: the ability to print ceramics. The trick, the HRL team figured out, was to not heat ceramic powder. Doing so generates too many microscopic flaws that can lead to cracks and fractures. Instead, the team developed a material they're calling "preceramic polymers" that convert to ceramic when heated. Essentially, the HRL team prints out the 3D design using these preceramic polymers and then fires the resulting item (like in a kiln) to harden the material into ceramic.

The technique - which leverages polymer chemistry and UV light in some novel ways - could find use in high-temperature settings at scales ranging from microelectromechanical devices to jet engines, researchers said. Three-dimensional printing of ceramics holds some big potential advantages, owing to its ability to create complex shapes that are difficult to create using conventional methods.

The most common additive-manufacturing techniques for ceramics, involving layer-by-layer, selective curing of powder-based precursors, have been painfully slow, and have created products with unacceptably high porosity and a tendency towards strength-reducing cracks, told the Business-Standard.

The Discovery notes that, the finding could open the door to a new class of ceramic-body or ceramic-engine jets, perhaps even a hypersonic craft that can fly from New York to Tokyo in a few hours.

“If you go very fast, about 10 times speed of sound within the atmosphere, then any vehicle will heat up tremendously because of air friction,” said Tobias Schaedler, senior scientist at HRL Laboratories in Malibu, Calif. “People want to build hypersonic vehicles and you need ceramics for the whole shell of the vehicle.”

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