Graphene is one of the most robust and mechanically capable materials to have found its way into the FDM 3D printing market. In layman’s terms, graphene is a tightly packed, thin layer of carbon atoms that are bonded together in a honeycomb lattice. This graphite-based material provides exceptional conductivity and enhanced mechanical properties, making it ideal for use with highly functional parts.
When it comes to blending graphene with 3D printing filaments, the UK-based nano-material producer Haydale has been on the forefront of innovation.
The recently developed Haydale Graphene PLA (available in 1.75 mm and 2.85 mm diameter) offers superior strength and stiffness, increased impact performance, as well as an exceptional surface finish. Other material producers like Graphene Lab Inc. have also developed their Conductive Graphene Filament, allowing users to print electrically conductive objects on their desktop machines.
To produce their Graphene PLA, Haydale first processes the graphene nanomaterials with their patented HDplas technology, which is then integrated into the polymer material through a conventional melt mixing and extruding method.
While carbon fiber provides multi-functional mechanical characteristics that are similar to graphene, it’s proven to be much more difficult for adaptation with 3D printing technology. However, graphene has proven easier integrated with 3D printable polymers, and provides a wide range of functionality that is unmatched by most other materials. We talked to Joe Eldridge, co-founder of Fullerex, the sales agent for Haydale graphene-based filaments, about what sets their graphene-based 3D printing composite apart from other materials.
“Graphene is an exciting material not for any one unique property, but because it is a multifunctional additive. So, by adding it into a polymer, you can improve mechanical properties, dimensional stability, thermal stability and conductivity, abrasion resistance and so on. Carbon fiber is a great additive in conventional composites but doesn't 3d print particularly well,” Eldridge said.
Mechanically enhanced materials are critical to the advancement of 3D printing, expanding the technology from a prototyping tool to a use-end production machine. Companies like Haydale are helping the industry grow by creating materials with advanced mechanical properties. These types of graphene-based filaments provide a critical stepping stone towards accessibility to functional 3D printed parts.
“Significant improvements in conventional materials are needed to move FDM 3D printers beyond making prototypes or display models and into a capable technology for rapidly manufacturing mechanically robust, functional parts,” said Eldridge. “Haydale's ability to engineer graphene to properly exploit its desirable properties has been a vital prerequisite to bridge this gap.”
Not only are graphene composite materials mechanically superior to most other materials, they also offer higher quality surface finishes too. In fact, since the graphene-infused PLA is stiffer and more robust, it’s much easier to machine and post-process in various ways. All in all, nanomaterial producers like Haydale are helping to expand the mechanical and aesthetic capabilities of FDM 3D printing.