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Villanova University Engineers to Investigate Binder Jet 3D Printing of Porous Metal and Ceramic Powders with ExOne

Mechanical Engineering Assistant Professor Dr. Bo Li and Associate Professor Dr. Qianhong Wu
Mechanical Engineering Assistant Professor Dr. Bo Li and Associate Professor Dr. Qianhong Wu

Two Villanova University engineers will partner with ExOne, the global leader in industrial 3D printers using binder jetting technology, to develop improved 3D printing processes for porous microparticles as part of a grant through the Manufacturing PA initiative.

This one-year collaborative project will be led by Drs. Bo Li and Qianhong Wu of Villanova’s Department of Mechanical Engineering in collaboration with ExOne. In all, 43 projects were funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED), including five related to binder jetting research with ExOne.

The approved projects are part of Manufacturing PA’s fellowship program, which unites graduate and undergraduate students with local manufacturers. Once paired, the students embark on research projects to develop new technologies and advance innovation statewide.

ExOne’s binder jetting technology is a disruptive method of 3D printing in which an industrial printhead deposits a liquid binder onto a thin layer of powdered particles, layer by layer, until an object is formed. ExOne systems currently 3D print more than 20 metals, ceramics and composite materials into precision parts, tooling and other industrial products. As one of the fastest methods of 3D printing, binder jetting is regarded as having promise as a production technology.

However, each powdered material has its own characteristics, and particles that have porous surfaces are more difficult to binder jet together than those with smooth surfaces. Villanova will investigate how to best wet porous particles with binder and generate guidelines or parameters for this form of 3D printing.

“The wetting process is similar to how liquid is absorbed in a sponge, with a single drop seeping both horizontally and vertically. In this case, however, the material is metal or ceramic particles, said Dr. Wu, an expert in fluidic dynamics, “The wetting behavior of porous media is a fundamental question for academia and industry with this 3D printing approach.”

“The wetting process is also related to the size, surface properties, and material of the particles,” said Dr. Li, a material and manufacturing scientist.

“Binder jetting works with a wide range of powders, but developing optimal process settings for materials can be a painstaking process, and we appreciate Villanova for helping to investigate and develop parameters for challenging porous microparticles,” said Jesse Blacker, Director of New Product & Business Development, at ExOne.

The project bridges theory and application and will result in an exciting research experience for two PhD students who are passionate about advanced additive manufacturing. The project is designed to deliver outcomes that are important to both ExOne and the Commonwealth. It seeks to quantify the binder-particle interaction that occurs in binder jet printing so that end users can develop optimal process settings for specific materials. This, in turn, will result in significant cost savings (less printer time, less material wasted) and enable new products to reach the market faster, allowing ExOne’s manufacturing customers to be more productive.

Villanova University and ExOne both provided significant in-kind support to this project, including expert time and access to advanced technology. The research team was also supported by Dr. Sridhar Santhanam, Department Chair of Mechanical Engineering; Keith Argue, Assistant Dean for External Relations; and from ExOne: John Hartner ’85 ME, CEO; Andrew Klein, Director of R&D; and Gabe Doman, Regional Account Manager.