Additive manufacturing is an emerging method to produce customized parts with functional materials without big investments. As one of the common additive manufacturing methods, fused deposition modeling (FDM) uses thermoplastic-based feedstock. It has been recently adapted to fabricate composite materials too. Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) is the most widely used material as FDM feedstock. However, it is an electrically insulating polymer. Carbon Nanotubes (CNTs) on the other hand are highly conductive. They are attractive fillers because of their high aspect ratio, and excellent mechanical and physical properties. Therefore, a nanocomposite of these two materials can give an electrically conductive material that is potentially compatible with FDM printing.
This work focuses on the investigation of the relationships between the FDM process parameters and the electrical conductivity of the printed ABS/CNT nanocomposites. Nanocomposite filaments with CNT contents up to 10wt% were produced using a twin-screw extruder followed by 3D printing using FDM method. The starting material was pellets from a masterbatch containing 15 wt% CNT. Compression-molded samples of ABS/CNT were also prepared as the bulk baselines. The effects of CNT content and nozzle size on the through-layer and in-layer electrical conductivity of the printed nanocomposites were analyzed.
Overall, a higher percolation threshold was observed in the printed samples, compared to that of the compression-molded counterparts. This resulted in the conductivity of the printed samples that is at least one order of magnitude lower. Moreover, at CNT contents up to 5 wt%, the in-layer conductivity of the printed samples was almost two orders of magnitudes higher than that in the through-layer direction. In ABS/3 wt% CNT samples, the through-layer conductivity continuously decreased as the nozzle diameter was decreased from 0.8 mm to 0.35 mm. These variations in the electrical conductivity were explained in terms of the CNT alignment, caused by the extrusion process during the print, quality of interlayer bonding during deposition, and the voids created due to the discrete nature of the printing process.