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Advanced testing helps Cornish company improve its 3D printing process for marine technology applications

 Based in Falmouth, 3D Kernow is a Community Interest Company with a mission to spread awareness of the potential for 3D printing across Cornwall and the wider South West. As well as working with commercial enterprises, 3D Kernow gives regular lectures and demonstrations to schools and colleges across Cornwall, to inform and inspire the next generation of technicians, engineers and innovators.

With continual advances in 3D printing technology, 3D Kernow have found themselves receiving a number of enquiries from marine based companies to 3D print a variety of marine components.  In order to better support the marine sector with this work, 3D Kernow contacted Marine-i to develop a research project to investigate the mechanical strength of their printed components, and how this can be improved.

Marine-i Business Research Fellow, Dr Tessa Gordelier, worked with 3D Kernow to investigate current best practice in the sector and to develop a suite of mechanical tests to optimise their printing practices. In collaboration with 3D Kernow. a suitable test specimen was developed and, working with Exeter Advanced Technologies Laboratory, ten different printing parameters were investigated.

Significant opportunities were identified to optimise the tensile strength of printed components.  The top three findings suggest that:

(1) Print orientation was the most significant contributing factor for sample strength. Samples should always be printed so that the orientation carrying the majority of the tensile load is printed along the flat bed of the printer as opposed to upright. (This factor demonstrated a 343% strength improvement).

(2) Material selection is very important, with Polycarbonate (PC) or Polylactic acid (PLA) demonstrating significant strength improvement over nylon. (These showed an 83% and 72% strength improvement respectively). 

(3) The choice of infill pattern has a significant effect on tensile strength of the printed samples.  At 20% infill, a tetrahedral pattern showed a 49% relative strength improvement compared to a cubic infill pattern.

These findings will help 3D Kernow to advance their printing practices and also allow them to inform their clients from the marine sector of the potential mechanical properties available through the use of 3D printing.

Professor Lars Johanning, Project Leader for the Marine-i team, says:

“The support provided to 3D Kernow through Marine-i is now enabling them to advance their technology to the next level. They can now make better informed decisions about their Research, Development and Innovation needs and open up important new commercial opportunities for the businesses that they work with. The long term impact of this ground-breaking research has the potential to put 3D Kernow right at the forefront of this important field of marine manufacturing.”

Louis Turner, Founder of 3D Kernow, adds:

“This project means we will be able to be much more precise when satisfying the 3D printing needs of marine clients. We now have a more objective understanding of the trade-off between assorted printing variants and the ultimate structural strength of the end components.”

You can see more details on the work of 3D Kernow at www.3dkernow.org