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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Integrated Durability Solutions for Elastomers

Will the durability of your new rubber product meet the expectations of your customers? 

Do you have a comprehensive capability that fully integrates all of the disciplines required to efficiently achieve a targeted durability spec?

Your engineers use finite element analysis (FEA) to model the elastomer component in the complex geometry and loading cycle for the desired product application.  One traditional approach to predicting durability is to develop a rough estimate of lifetime by looking at maximum principal strain or stress in relation to strain-life or stress-life fatigue curves obtained for the material using lab specimens in simple tension.  The difficulties and uncertainties with this method were discussed in a recent blog post.

 

A modern approach to elastomer durability is to use the Endurica CL™ durability solver for FEA.  This software uses rubber fracture mechanics principles and critical plane analysis to calculate the fatigue lifetime – which is the number of times the complex deformation cycle can be repeated before failure – for every element of the model.  This provides engineers with the ability to view lifetime throughout the FEA mesh, allowing them to modify design features or make material changes as needed to resolve short-lifetime areas.

A sound finite element model of the elastomer product in the specified loading situation and fundamental fatigue material parameters from our Fatigue Property Mapping™ testing methods are the two essential inputs to the Endurica CL software.  This is illustrated in the figure below.

The requisite elastomer characterization methods can be conducted by us through our testing services or by you in your laboratory with our testing instruments.  For some companies, consulting projects are a route to taking advantage of the software before deciding to license the unique predictive capabilities.  The following diagram shows how our products and services are integrated.

For companies that are just getting started with implementing our durability solutions, the following is a typical testing services and consulting project:

  1. We use our Fatigue Property Mapping™ testing methods, through our collaboration with Axel Products Physical Testing Services, to characterize the properties of cured sheets of rubber compounds sent to us by the client. The minimum requirements for fatigue modeling are crack precursor size and crack growth rate law, and these are quantified within our Core Fatigue Module.  Special effects like strain-induced crystallization and aging/degradation are accounted for using other testing modules when applicable.
  2. The client sends us the output files from their finite element analysis (FEA) of their elastomer part design for the deformation of their complex loading cycle. It is common for the goal to be a comparison of either two designs, two distinct loading profiles, two different rubber compounds, or combinations of these variations.  Our software is fully compatible with Abaqus™, ANSYS™, and MSC Marc™, so the simulations can be conducted on any of these FEA platforms.  In some situations where a client does not have their own FEA capabilities, one of Endurica’s engineers will set up the models and perform the analyses instead.
  3. The fatigue parameters and FEA model are inputted to Endurica CL fatigue solver to calculate values of the fatigue lifetime for every element of the model. The lifetime results are then mapped back onto the finite element mesh in Abaqus, ANSYS, or MSC Marc so that the problem areas (short lifetime regions) within the geometry can be highlighted.
  4. We review the results with the client and discuss any opportunities for improving the fatigue performance through design and material changes.

Advanced implementors of our durability solutions have licensed the Endurica CL software and are using our rubber characterization methods in their laboratories on a routine basis, with instruments provided through our partnership with Coesfeld GmbH & Co. (Germany).  One recently publicized example of a company using the Endurica approach to a very high degree is Tenneco Inc., which you can read about here.

We want to help you #GetDurabilityRight, so please contact me at cgrobertson@endurica.com if you would like to know more about how Endurica’s modern integrated durability solutions for elastomers can help enable a product development path that is faster, less expensive, and more confident.

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Fatigue Life Analysis of Free Surfaces

Free surfaces are critical in fatigue analysis because cracks in a physical part tend to form and grow fastest on such surfaces.  Extra care is required when analyzing free surfaces because typical 3D solid finite elements have their worst accuracy at the free surface (gauss points are not located on the free surface, and hydrostatic pressure profile does not conform adequately to element shape function).  Fortunately, the problem is not hard to resolve: free surfaces can easily be skinned with membrane elements.  Membrane elements are specially formulated to produce an exact state of plane stress.

Let’s look at fatigue life predictions that have been computed with a skin of membrane elements, and compare them with predictions computed from the underlying 3D solid elements.

To study the differences in fatigue life calculations, three simple loading cases were used: simple tension, planar tension, and bending. For each case the fatigue life is calculated for both the surface and solid elements.  The results are shown in the table below.

The fatigue life results show that the shortest life always occurred on the free surface. The life for the solid elements varied from 16% to 25% longer than the surface elements. In each case, the critical failure location was on the surface of the part and in the same location for both the solid and surface calculations. The colored contours of fatigue life are shown below for each of the cases.

Figure 1. Fatigue life on simple tension specimen. Isometric view.

 

Figure 2. Fatigue life on planar tension specimen. Cross-section view through the center of the specimen.

 

Figure 3. Fatigue life on bending specimen. Cross-section view through the center of the specimen.

 

Mesh refinement affects the fatigue life results. A mesh refinement study was performed on the bending case. The mesh refinement study consists of the standard mesh model shown above, a coarse mesh model and a fine mesh model. The number of elements in each model triples with each increase in mesh density. The results are shown below.

Figure 4. Mesh Density Analysis on bending specimen.

This mesh density analysis shows that as mesh density increases, the difference in the bulk and surface results decreases. The bulk and surface results converge to a single value. The amount that solid elements on the surface of the part extend into the interior of the part decreases as smaller elements are used. Since the smaller solid elements have a strain history closer to the surface they more closely match the surface element strains and the life results converge to a single value.

Bottom Line:  if you have free surfaces, skin your model with membrane elements for high accuracy results.  Refining your mesh at the surface may help somewhat, but skinning with membranes is far more reliable.

 

 

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