Durability of 3D Printed Elastomer Structures

If you are involved in 3D printing with elastomers, can you predict the fatigue behavior?

How is product lifetime affected by complex lattice designs with multiaxial stresses, and what is the impact of printing defects?

Scientific literature and social media are abound with amazing examples of the potential for 3D printed articles made from metals, plastics and elastomers for use in many fields including the biomedical area. Researchers at ETH Zürich recently 3D printed a functioning artificial heart made from a silicone material. A picture of the device is shown below, and the story can be viewed elsewhere.1,2 This pioneering work represents a very noteworthy achievement. This research also highlights the importance of understanding elastomer durability in these cutting edge applications, as the silicone heart only survived 3,000 beats or about 30 minutes.

One of the key differences between 3D printing (additive manufacturing) and conventional manufacturing is the ability of 3D printing processes to create complex structures containing open spaces, often lattice-like in nature. Perhaps the most innovative and high profile example of a 3D printed product with lattice construction is the midsole for the Adidas Futurecraft 4D shoe that is created using the Carbon 3D technology.3

Overall stresses that are relatively modest and unidirectional translate into much higher stress, multiaxial conditions within the struts of a lattice structure like the shoe sole example above. The finite element simulation below illustrates this for a lattice structure undergoing simple compression (thanks to Mark Bauman, engineering analyst at Endurica).

Multiaxial load cases, crack closure considerations, and other complexities that arise in lattice designs and make it impossible to predict fatigue behavior using simplistic approaches such as Wohler / stress(S)-lifetime(N) curves, can be readily handled using the Endurica CL elastomer fatigue solver for Abaqus, MSC Marc, and ANSYS finite element analysis to predict when and where cracks will show up in the structure.

Cracks in an elastomer start out as microscopic precursors that grow due to applied cyclic loading according to a characteristic crack growth rate law for the material.4 In combination with critical plane analysis, this rubber fracture mechanics approach is the cornerstone of our Endurica CL software. The crack precursors – also called intrinsic defects or flaws – are especially important to pay attention to in the additive manufacturing of products in which voids or defects can be introduced by the printing process. The Core Module of our Fatigue Property Mapping testing services includes quantification of crack precursor size, and our new Reliability Module characterizes its distribution. The figure below illustrates the clear influence of crack precursor size on tensile strength in a study wherein we intentionally introduced glass microspheres as flaws in the rubber compound.5 Fatigue lifetime shows the same strong dependence on flaw size.

Endurica has the software, testing solutions, and expertise to help you understand and improve the durability of your 3D printed elastomer applications, so contact us to see how we can help you #GetDurabilityRight in the additive manufacturing world.

References

  1. https://www.sciencealert.com/this-3d-printed-soft-artificial-heart-beats-just-like-a-real-one
  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YUYNXeHfTdQ
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qlomslovAnI
  4. W. V. Mars, “Fatigue life prediction for elastomeric structures”, Rubber Chemistry and Technology 80, 481 (2007), https://doi.org/10.5254/1.3548175.
  5. C. G. Robertson, L. B. Tunnicliffe, L. Maciag, M. A. Bauman, K. Miller, C. R. Herd, and W. V. Mars, “Characterizing Tensile Strength Distribution to Evaluate Filler Dispersion Effects and Reliability of Rubber”, paper presented at the Fall 196th Technical Meeting of the Rubber Division, American Chemical Society (International Elastomer Conference), Cleveland, OH, October 8-10, 2019.

 

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Will Mars on the Rubber Industry: A Look Back 10 Years, Where We Are Now, A Look Ahead 10 Years

Q: With regards to fatigue life prediction methods, where was the rubber industry 10 years ago?

Will There was plenty of great academic work and good understanding of fundamentals, but the methods were only deployed – if at all – via “homebuilt” solutions that could never support a broad enough audience to really impact daily product design decisions.  Simulation methods and experimental methods shared theoretical foundations but they were poorly integrated.  They suffered from operational problems, noisy data and open-ended test duration.  It was possible to analyze a crack if you could mesh it, but the added bookkeeping and convergence burdens were usually not sustainable in a production engineering context.  Mostly, analysts relied on tradition-based crack nucleation approaches that would look at quantities like strain or stress or strain energy density.  These were not very accurate and they were limiting in many ways, even though they were widely used.  They left companies very dependent on build and break iterations.

Q: Where is the industry today?

Will: The early adopters of our solutions have been off and running now for a number of years.  Our critical plane method has gained recognition for its high accuracy when dealing with multiaxial cases, cases involving crack closure, cases involving strain crystallization.  Our testing methods have gained recognition for high reliability and throughput.  Our users are doing production engineering with our tools.  They are consistently winning on durability issues.  They are handling durability issues right up front when they bid for new business.  They are expanding their in-house labs to increase testing capacity and they are winning innovation awards from OEMs.  They are using actual road-load cases from their customers to design light-weight, just-right parts that meet durability requirements.  The automotive industry has lead adoption but aerospace, tires, energy, and consumer products are also coming up.  We have users across the entire supply chain: raw material suppliers, component producers and OEMs.  The huge value that was locked up because durability was previously so difficult to manage is now unlocked in new ways for the first time.  This has been the wind in Endurica’s sails for the last 10 years.

Q: Where do you see the industry in 10 years?

Will: In 10 years, OEMs will expect durability from all component producers on day 1, even for radical projects.  They will expect designs already optimized for cost and weight.  They will push more warrantee responsibility to the supplier.  They will monitor durability requirements via shared testing and simulation workflows.  Suppliers will pitch solutions using characterization and simulation to show their product working well in your product.  The design and selection of rubber compounds to match applications will enter a golden age as real-world customer usage conditions will finally be taken fully into account.  Where design and selection was previously limited by the budget for a few build and break iterations, and low visibility of design options, they will soon be informed by an almost unlimited evaluation of all possibilities.  Where simulation methods have traditionally had greatest impact on product design functions, we will also start to see rubber part Digital Twins that track damage accumulation and create value in the operational functions of a business.  Durability is definitely set to become a strong arena for competition in the next 10 years.

 

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