PLA Creates Sacrificial Composite Channels, Mimicking Nature

Bioplastic polylactic acid (PLA) will play an interesting role in creating sacrificial channels for super lightweight reusable, 3D-printed Tinkertoy-type parts for use in space structures.
Christopher Hansen, an assistant professor at UMass Lowell, was awarded a NASA grant to research the novel technology coupled with carbon and boron fibers bound with epoxy resin. Pultrusion will also be used as a manufacturing technology. Hansen’s project is titled “Design and Fabrication of Aerospace-Grade Digital Composite Materials”.
The underlying premise of the project is that aluminum and steel are too heavy to send into outer space.
“A kilogram of material can cost up to $10,000 to fly into space due to the fuel requirements of the booster rocket,” says Hansen. “My research aims to conduct fundamental computational design and optimization of composite materials followed by experimentation in order to manufacture parts and test structures for aerospace applications.”
Hansen’s team will make one-dimensional struts and 2D plates that can be assembled into a panel, sphere, cube, cylinder, boom, or other shapes. The goal is to create parts that be used many times over.
Functionality of the parts will be improved with PLA technology pioneered at the University of Illinois that attempts to mimic the pervasive vascular networks in living systems ranging from trees to bones. Synthetic composites such as boron-fiber epoxy composites possess high strength-to-weigh ratios, but lack the dynamic functional capabilities of the versions existing in nature.
The construction of microvascular parts starts with the mechanized weaving of sacrificial PLA fibers into woven preforms. The length, position, diameter and even the curvature of the fibers are engineered based on the intended design criteria. After addition of epoxy the structure is cured. Following, curing ends are trimmed to expose the PLA fibers, which are then vaporized by high heat. The channels are then filled with a liquid to provide a desired property, such as improved thermal or chemical properties. Parts can even be made that produce light.

About Doug Smock

Former Chief Editor at Plastics World and Senior Technical Editor Design News
Additive manufacturing, Aircraft, Bioplastics, Epoxy, North America, PLA , , ,

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