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Rapid prototyping with ceramic-lled epoxy resin by optoforming

Martin Augsburg Sebastian Storch Florian Nissen and Gerd Witt

The authors
Martin Augsburg and Sebastian Storch are based at the Centre of Rapid Technologies of the BMW Group, Munich, Germany. Florian Nissen is based at the Department of Industrial Forming and Casting (UTG), University of Technology Munich, Munich, Germany. Gerd Witt is based at the Department of Product Engineering, Gerhard-Mercator-University, Duisburg-Essen, Germany.

Stereolithography (SLA) is one of the most common and rapid prototyping processes in which mainly uv-curable epoxy resins are used. In the early state of automotive product development, prototypes made in epoxy resins are used for quick verication of designs or as prototypes with a low range of functionality. These prototypes give a rst impression on a parts properties. Fully functional prototypes with the full range of a parts properties similar to those of its serial version cannot be built with SLA because of the limited material properties of epoxy resins. However many opportunities to reinforce epoxy resins exist, one of which is lling with ceramics, and shows promise. The imaginable advantages of epoxy resins lled with ceramics are better material properties and thus possible fabrication of highly resistant parts and tools (Dormal, 2000). Using an established technology such as SLA for the machine design should reduce the effort of development. The Alphaform Corp. offers an upgrade for conventional SLA-machines to enable usage of ceramic-lled epoxy resins such as DSM Somos ProtoTool20. The disadvantage with these slightly viscous resins is the risk of decomposition. Contained particles sink by gravitational force. A homogenous distribution of these particles is not possible for the long-term. Because of the problem of decomposition, materials like somos DSM ProtoTool20 are not processable for more than several weeks without special treatment to revert to a homogenous lled resin. Filled resins containing more than 50 percent of ceramic llers cannot be used on such an upgraded SLA-machine because of the increased viscosity. As a result of the ow behaviour, sufcient recoating becomes impossible. New concepts of feeding and recoating are necessary. On this account, Optoform LLC, a subsidiary of the 3D Systems Corp. is developing the optoform-technology (Figure 1). It provides the possibility to process different highly viscous epoxy resins with a high ratio of llers. As a result of the increased amount of ceramic llers, parts and tools should show higher stability and stiffness than those made of slightly viscous resins on SLA-machines (Gebhardt, 2000). Depending on the amount of ceramic llers, two alternatives for using ceramic lled epoxy resins are possible: direct use or use after post-sintering. A direct application of non-sintered parts could be the fabrication of lighting housings. For that, established SLA-materials offer good mechanical stability but are thermally resistant
Received: 18 March 2003 Revised: 1 March 2004 Accepted: 12 March 2004

Rapid prototypes, Ceramics, Automotive components industry

Optoforming is meant to be a potential substitution for the established Stereolithography (SLA) process. Its potential is that different ceramic-lled photo-curable epoxy-resins can theoretically be used to manufacture highly loadable parts and tools. The stiffness as well as the thermal and chemical resistance of the material used (an epoxy resin named Tooling B) are higher than those of established SLA-materials, such as SOMOS 7120. Automotive applications, in elds where the parts are directly used parts, such as lighting housings for prototype purposes, as well as tools for the veneering process in small batch production, were successfully tested. In order to enable precise and cost-effective fabrication, optoforming has to be developed further in the eld of secondary processes, such as inline-ltration of the material and its feeding, as well as the machine software. Currently, another competitor offers a more mature process based on upgraded SLA machines, which use a ceramic-lled epoxy-resin also.

Electronic access
The Emerald Research Register for this journal is available at www.emeraldinsight.com/researchregister The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at www.emeraldinsight.com/1355-2546.htm

Rapid Prototyping Journal Volume 10 Number 4 2004 pp. 225231 q Emerald Group Publishing Limited ISSN 1355-2546 DOI 10.1108/13552540410551342


Rapid prototyping with ceramic-lled epoxy resin

Rapid Prototyping Journal Volume 10 Number 4 2004 225231

Martin Augsburg, Sebastian Storch, Florian Nissen and Gerd Witt

Figure 1 Building principle of the optoform system

only for a limited range. Hence, functional prototypes of lighting housings cannot be fabricated using conventional SLA. A high percentage of ceramic llers should enable higher thermal resistance and thus make fabrication of functional prototypes possible. Another application of non-sintered and directly used parts could be the eld of aerodynamic development of racing cars. Geometries change quickly and are examined in computational uid dynamics (CFD) simulations. To verify those simulations, wind tunnel tests are used. For these tests, parts made by rapid prototyping technologies (such as SLA) are often used. Many verication loops can be made in a short time to obtain optimal ows and best performance on the racetrack. However, aerodynamic parts made from established rapid prototyping materials often have a lower stiffness than parts made of materials used for racing. Therefore, there are differences between the simulation and testing of aerodynamic parts. With the use of epoxy resins lled by ceramics, parts with higher stiffness can be achieved. This can decrease the gap between simulation and testing (Clarvinal et al., 2003). The fabrication of tools made in epoxy resins lled by ceramics is also conceivable. High mechanical resistance to frictional wear or compression loads is intended. Inlets for injection moulding or other tools are possible. Postsintering could offer pure ceramic parts and tools with very high mechanical and thermal resistance. Shells for investment casting without geometrical limitation should be producable.

Available layer-thickness is in a range between 75 and 200 mm. Maximum build size is 250 350 500 mm. At the end of the preparation-process, data are converted into a specic machine code. The supply of material is similar to that for selective laser sintering (SLS). A vertical piston pushes material onto the build platform. The material is spread by a recoating unit (Figure 1). Owing to the high viscosity of the lled epoxy resin used, which behaves like a paste, no expensive vat is necessary. As a result of the high viscosity, the recoating unit works differently to established recoating units. To liquefy the stiff paste, rollers in front of the recoating blades are used, which will be discussed in detail in the next section. In general, the process of recoating offers a high potential to reduce build speed. The time for recoating strongly depends on the size of the area that has to be coated. For that reason, building platforms in different sizes are available for optoform-technology in order to save time. Finally, the part needs to be removed from the platform. It is fully embedded in uncured paste (Plate 1). Non-cured paste is taken off manually by scrapers and can be reused. As a result of the lack of transparency of the paste, careful work is necessary to avoid damaging ligree details of the part. The material has to be ltered before its next use, because broken residuals pollute the uncured paste. Filtration can be done in two ways: ofine and online. Ofine-ltration is done separately from building process. Using online-ltration, waste paste is ltered during use directly in the machine. This process is more efcient than ofine-ltration, but currently such an onlineltration-process does not work properly. The screen of ltration can be blocked by residuals which causes incorrect feeding of material. Because of this, insufcient recoating of the build area occurs. A wrongly recoated build area results in poor quality of cured layers. These internal
Plate 1 Fully embedded part

Characteristics of the optoforming process

Preparation of CAD data is similar to established solid-freeform-fabrication. If necessary, some parts are built with supports. Triangulation of the parts and supports geometry is followed by slicing them into layers.


Rapid prototyping with ceramic-lled epoxy resin

Rapid Prototyping Journal Volume 10 Number 4 2004 225231

Martin Augsburg, Sebastian Storch, Florian Nissen and Gerd Witt

material defects can negatively affect the material properties of the whole part. Therefore, an ofineltration-process has to be used. A machines piston is used to push waste material through a xed screen. Storage of ltered as well as fresh paste is affected by a high evaporation of hydrocarbons. Unclosed storage in rooms with frequently exchanged air (e.g. air condition) results in drying of the paste by removing evaporated hydrocarbons. After storage for any more than 1-2 weeks under those conditions, the paste is no longer not processable. This effect is increased by compressive stress. Therefore storage in the machine over a period longer than 1 week without easing the piston off the paste is not recommended. Fresh paste has to be stored under nearly hermetic conditions to limit the drying-process of the material. Evaporation of hydrocarbons cannot be stopped, so it needs to be limited. Without the ability to escape, the gas liquees. Thus a small puddle on the pastes surface occurs, which can be easily re-stirred into the paste. Manufacturing is possible for longer than half a year, if the paste has been stored in this fashion. Composition of Tooling B could be re-designed to minimise these difculties. After pre-cleaning the parts using scrapers, the remaining uncured material has to be ushed out. In the respective tests with pure hot water and with soap (at 908C), the paste is bearly soluble. Therefore, aggressive organic solvents such as isopropyl-alcohol (IPA) and Dovanol (TPM) have to be applied. In order to clean automatically instead of manually, tests with cleaning-units similar to a dishwasher were performed. The disadvantage of such machines is the poor cleaning of ligree details and undercuts. Uncured paste is not fully ushed out, so manual cleaning with the help of brushes and highly pressurised solvents offers the best results. UV Postcuring follows to remove slight residues of paste on the surface. Tempering at 1608C is recommended, to get optimal material properties (Figure 2).

Figure 2 Tempering process of Tooling B

Stability of the process

Precise building of parts is not yet possible. This is due to part geometry, the material used and the machines hardware and software. Filigree details of parts easily break during recoating or cleaning processes. Furthermore, fabrication of details with thicknesses of less than 1 to 1.5 mm is bearly possible and extensive supporting is necessary. Therefore, the more complex the parts geometry is, the more supports are required.

In addition to part geometry, the material used inuences the stability of the process. Currently, the materials are produced manually under laboratory conditions. The lack of continuity may cause inhomogeneous properties of paste in different batches. As a result, recoating can be sufcient or insufcient in identical builds under similar external circumstances. With an increase in the number of layers, a lack of material can be observed, although the correct amount of material is provided by the software. This effect relates to the ratio of cured to uncured volumes inside a parts geometry. The more cured volume a parts geometry has, the less this effect occurs. A possible explanation is a deviation in viscosity for different batches. This may result in owing of the uncured material. In fact, loss of material remains low at a small number of layers, but the loss of material is substantial after a high number of layers. However, cured structures inside a parts geometry can limit this ow. In this case, the paste that is fully embedding the part is more stabilised, as shown by observation. For now, there is no automatic function to solve this problem. As long as production of paste is unstable, two alternatives are possible. One acceptable option is permanent monitoring to assure the correct amount of material. Another alternative is the building of thin walls around the parts geometry to limit the ow of paste and guarantee the correct amount of material. Other frequent operational faults are based on the character of the machine. It is a prototypeseries, which is custom-built without assembly regulations or specic quality standards. Hence, the performance cannot be precisely assessed.

Material properties
The rst derivative of ceramic lled epoxy resin made by Koninklijke DSM N.V. is Tooling B which is intended for direct use


Rapid prototyping with ceramic-lled epoxy resin

Rapid Prototyping Journal Volume 10 Number 4 2004 225231

Martin Augsburg, Sebastian Storch, Florian Nissen and Gerd Witt

(Koninklijke, 2003a). Another version named Ceramic B, which features a higher amount of ceramic ller and therefore is intended for a sintering purposes, is still under development. In general, the high amount of ceramic llers in the available materials is supposed to offer improved material properties such as stiffness and thermal resistance. However, this leads to an increased viscosity, which was measured at 1700 cps at room-temperature. This is only 70 percent of the original viscosity of Tooling B and is supposed to be a result of the manual production under laboratory conditions. In comparison to SOMOS 7120, the viscosity of Tooling B is almost three times as high. This complicates the processing, since the established way of recoating by blades is nearly impossible. For this reason, the thixotropic effect of the paste, according to the Bingham-model, is implemented. During the application of shearing stress, the material becomes low in viscosity and capable of ow hence recoating becomes possible. Therefore, the recoating unit uses rollers, which apply shearing stress on the paste. After coating one layer, the shearing stress diminishes, which causes paste-solidication after a short waiting-period (Figures 3 and 4). The disadvantage of this thixotropic effect is the settling down of particles during the time of low viscosity. As a result, a slight separation of particles and liquid epoxy resin can be observed. Regions with higher and lower amounts of ceramic particles exist within each layer. Therefore, the use of the thixotropic effect has to be optimised, because the mechanical properties of lled materials are inuenced more by their structure than by their chemical composition (Nissen, 2003; Schatt and Wieters, 1994). Spectral analysis and analysis with scanning electron microscopy (SEM) were applied to
Figure 3 Viscosity of Tooling B at room temperature

Figure 4 Recoating unit: rollers

analyse the structure of cured Tooling B. Results show that Tooling B contains silica, oxygen and carbon (Figure 5). The epoxy resin used can be specied as a thermoset plastic. Thermoset plastics are very stiff materials due to their closely meshed network of polymeric chains. Because of the high bondingforce, nearly no plastic deformation can be measured with an increasing state of stress. Ruptures of polymeric chains occur at a certain maximum state of stress. In addition, dispersing ceramic particles in those thermoset plastics stiffen the material. In general, ceramic particles are known as stiff but brittle.
Figure 5 Spectral analysis: Tooling B


Rapid prototyping with ceramic-lled epoxy resin

Rapid Prototyping Journal Volume 10 Number 4 2004 225231

Martin Augsburg, Sebastian Storch, Florian Nissen and Gerd Witt

SEM displayed that the ceramic llers of Tooling B are fully embedded in the form of differently shaped regions bonded inside the cured epoxy resin. The crystallites consist of SiO2 and vary in shape, size and distribution. The particles shapes differs from globular to angular with sharp edges, which may be due to their method of production (Plate 2). Their size ranges between 5 and 40 mm. An inhomogeneous shape and size can effect the number of gliding resistances inside each ceramic particle, and thus can cause increased brittleness and decreased elongation at break (Weibach, 1998). Because of the decomposition temperature of the epoxy resin used, the level of re-enforcement due to the lling with ceramics depends on temperature. This marks the upper limit of thermal range for use of parts and tools made in Tooling B. The supposed high stiffness can be observed due to the use of a thermoset plastic lled with ceramic particles. Chemical resistance is not inuenced by the llers because there is only inclusion of ceramic crystallites in an epoxy resin instead of the sintering of an entire ceramic matrix. Therefore, a high chemical resistance is due to the formulation of the epoxy resin. Measuring the material properties showed that stiffness (Youngs and exural modulus) and thermal resistance of the material increase in comparison to established epoxy resins, such as DSM somos 7120 (Koninklijke, 2003b). Tensile strength and elongation at break are similar to this established epoxy resin (Figure 6). A good chemical resistance of Tooling B against solvents such as engine oil, gasoline, coolant and braking-uid was detected. Tests running over 14 days showed no permeability of tempered
Plate 2 SEM-Analysis: Tooling B

Figure 6 Material properties

Tooling B. However, the use of containers made out of Tooling B for automotive prototype purpose is impossible due to low elongation at break. During use, the stress of vibration would cause damage to these containers.

After analysing the characteristics of the process and the material properties, the focus was shifted to determine opportunities for automotive applications. Rapid prototyping of lighting housings Owing to the high thermal resistance of tempered Tooling B the build of lighting housings seems to be a feasible application. Functional prototypes of housings are used for presentation of the designs in which they lie. Housings made out of established SLA-materials such as SOMOS 7120 are unable to withstand a period of 1 h of usage because of the heat, which may cause a deformation of the prototype. They have to be presented for little or no time of function. To analyse a sample part made out of Tooling B, the 3D-model of a taillight of the new MINI was prepared and built on the optoform system. Three 12 V braking-lights with a power of 21 W each were xed inside the housing, whose surfaces were not coated. A clear light cover was mounted afterwards (Plate 3). The lights shone for a period of 24 h without any cooling or interruption. During the


Rapid prototyping with ceramic-lled epoxy resin

Rapid Prototyping Journal Volume 10 Number 4 2004 225231

Martin Augsburg, Sebastian Storch, Florian Nissen and Gerd Witt

Plate 3 Assembly of the taillight

reasons: lower dimensional deviation is needed to achieve correct distribution of light and additionally Tooling B is too brittle. Parts cannot stand vibrational stress over a longer period of time without internal or external fractures. Rapid tooling of ttings for veneering process The building of tools stressed by pressure and high temperatures is conceivable with the high thermal resistance as well as good stiffness of Tooling B. Therefore, rapid tooling for a veneering process was tested. In general, sandwich-builds contain shaped layers of wood separated by a rm glue. With the help of vacuum-driven membranes and temperatures above 958C, the sandwich is pressed and xed onto prepared parts. These parts must be xed in a tting (Plate 4). This tting was re-engineered rst and fabricated in Tooling B in a second step for testing purposes. Tempering was the only nishing-process to show the dimensional accuracy of parts made in Tooling B. After veneering ve sets with three parts each, the test was successfully completed. The frictional wear had not damaged the ttings surface. After completion of the test the tting provided the same accuracy as at the beginning. The veneered parts featured a very good surface quality and were put for customer use. In conclusion, depending on the stresses present, successful rapid tooling for prototype purposes or small batch fabrication is possible.

test, temperatures of 908C occurred on the surfaces inside the housing. Later the measurement showed a dimensional deviation of less than 2 mm in each axis. In a second step, the housing was tempered as recommended by optoform LLC and re-tested. Dimensional deviations of less than 0.5 mm were measured. In a third step, the housing was coated with chrome and sealed with clear varnish. After a further test-procedure of 24 h, no further dimensional deviation of the parts geometry occurred. This may be due to the lower temperatures on chrome-plated surfaces and their high reectance of heat. The coated surfaces were not damaged by any evaporation effect or dimensional change (Figure 7). Instead, the clear varnish of the housing turned less opaque due to the low thermal resistance of the clear coat. The test showed a good thermal resistance and low shrinkage for tempered Tooling B. Therefore, the fabrication of lighting housings for prototype purposes made of tempered and coated Tooling B is possible, so long as thermal resistance of the clear coats is improved to avoid a colour change in the coatings surface. On the other hand, rapid manufacturing of housings for small volume production is not possible for two
Figure 7 Dimensional measurement

Tooling B seems to be a promising material when it comes to stiff and highly thermally loadable prototypes or tools for automotive applications. Lighting housings for prototype purpose can be manufactured and lit without restrictions in time. After tempering dimensional stability can be achieved nearly without deviation. Coatings can be used without fear of surface failure or fractures.
Plate 4 Veneering-parts xed on tool


Rapid prototyping with ceramic-lled epoxy resin

Rapid Prototyping Journal Volume 10 Number 4 2004 225231

Martin Augsburg, Sebastian Storch, Florian Nissen and Gerd Witt

High mechanically loadable parts can be fabricated as well. The building of ttings for a veneering process was shown as an example. The ttings were used without failure and veneered parts were used within customers cars. Tools made in Tooling B can therefore support small batch production for existing tool loads. Currently, the process of building works under laboratory conditions with a high degree of maintenance. Precise building is not possible for three reasons. The rst reason is insufcient feeding damaged by broken parts or supports. The second is inhomogeneous paste as a result of manual production. The third is unstable machine software. This suggests that optoforming is clearly not yet an option for cost-effective manufacturing of ceramic-lled parts and tools. SLA-machines, which are upgraded for the use of ceramic-lled epoxy resins by the Alphaform Corp. are more reliable due to the established main process and hardware. However, highly lled epoxy resins cannot be used in this process due to the problematical process of recoating and the danger of decomposition by gravitational force. Regarding the problem of decomposition, optoforming has the advantage in comparison to the Alphaformprocess. The clearest advantage of the optoforming process is not presumed to be in directly manufactured parts. The post-sintering process removes epoxy resin in the rst step and produces a full lattice of ceramic particles in the second step, which can be mechanically, thermally as well as chemically stressed. Optoforming could provide parts and tools for rapid prototyping, rapid casting and rapid tooling

and eventually for rapid manufacturing as long as the sintering-process, inline-ltration, a stable, precise production of materials and machine software are enabled or optimised. A substitution of conventional stereolithography is possible in the mid-term.

Dormal, T. (2000), Optoform a new process for rapid layer manufacturing based on paste, Rapid Prototyping & Tooling Industrial Applications, Newsletter of the RAPTIA Thematic Network, No. 4, October 2000. Clarvinal, A-M., Carrus, R. and Dormal, T. (2003), Development of material for optoform process, Proceedings of the 1st International Conference on Advanced Research in Virtual and Rapid Prototyping, October 2003, ESTG, Leiria, Portugal, pp. 279-82. Gebhardt, A. (2000), Rapid Prototyping, Hanser. Koninklijke DSM N.V. (2003a), Material Safety Data Sheet: SOMOS Tooling B. Koninklijke DSM N.V. (2003b), Material Safety Data Sheet: SOMOS 7120 Epoxy Photopolymer. Nissen, F. (2003), Erarbeitung, Erprobung und Bewertung einer Prozesskette zur direkten Herstellung von Feingussformen mit Hilfe generativer Verfahren, Diplomarbeit, BMW AG. Schatt, W. and Wieters, K-P. (1994), Pulvermetallurgie, VDI. Weibach, W. (1998), Werkstoffkunde und Werkstoffprufung, Vieweg.

Further reading
Ehrenstein, W. (1999), Polymer-Werkstoffe, Hanser. Hellerich, W., Harsch, G. and Haenle, S. (1986), Werkstoff-Fuhrer Kunststoffe, Hanser. Westkamper, E. and Warnecke, H. (2002), Einfuhrung in die Fertigungstechnik, Teubner.