Converting plastic into a conductor of electricity: research and practice with Aiju and Talleres Tibi

IBI. El plastic it is an insulator of electricity, but also can become a driver thus expanding its potential uses, such as the blocking of electromagnetic fields or the manufacture of electrodes and the consequent reduction in manufacturing times and costs for the industry. In this field, the AIJU technology center and Talleres Tibi firm, manufacturer of EDM electrodes, dedicated to injection molding and interested in improving the production of EDM electrodes, they research to create new plastic materials with better performance.

Specifically, these Aiju and Tibi Workshops are within the EDM-Additive project consortium, which coordinates the Tibi company and in which the firm also participates Add North 3D, a Swedish company and the only filament producer in the Nordic countries and +90 3D Digital Factory, a Fab Lab in Turkey, which manufactures 3D parts. The University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria also offers support and knowledge to this project. On a plan that has a four-year journey and will end in 2022, they already have several materials created and with multiple and potential uses.

Thus, the consortium focuses on the development of various materials and works with all kinds of processes in plastics. In this case, they want to use these materials to make electrodes and make molds with EDM. There are two main lines of research, one directed at laser sintering and the other at 3D printing of filaments, which are being developed and validated.

Possible uses in industry

Within the industrial sectors in Alicante, for example, it may have uses in the plastic or toy sector. Angel Mira, Manager of Talleres Tibi, coordinators of the project and site where they carry out tests of the product, assures that in their sector, it can be used in the manufacture of EDM molds, “replacing copper electrodes, which have to be machined with control pressers The plastic ones could be made with 3D printers including those components that provide electrical conductivity. ” In this way, these plastic filaments with additives would help reduce electrode manufacturing times by 40% and by 30% its cost. “In the area of ​​the valley of the toy there are many injection mold manufacturing workshops that could benefit from this material, reducing costs and with more competitive molds, by eliminating the machining process,” says Mira.

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For its part, Asuncion Martinez, responsible for innovative materials and technologies at Aiju, explains that, to create electrically conductive plastic materials, they use “a mixture of thermoplastic materials with conductive fillers with graphene and carbon-based substances, which they are mechanically more resistant and provide other advantages plus”.

One of the new materials created is an electrically conductive filament, a raw material used by FDM 3D printers, with a formulation of polyvinylidene fluoride and graphene that is optimal in hospital, medical equipment, telecommunications, automotive and electrode manufacturing applications. “This fluoride is a very technical and chemically inert polymer. It is tough and easy to process compared to other more complicated polymers“, assures Martínez. They work, therefore, in various formulations.

The property of electrical conductivity in plastic acts as an electromagnetic shield and prevents interference or external coupling in certain machinery, for example in medical devices. “Even can be used in the toy: any motor or mechanism that goes in a housing, can be exchanged for this plastic to avoid interference“, points out the person in charge of innovative materials at Aiju. Ultimately, it could be used in housings or parts where electrostatic electricity accumulates, to reduce it.” Avoid this electrical discharge and parts can be obtained that dissipate electricity and electrostatic accumulation. If this conductivity is achieved, the metallic and pure graphite parts can be replaced. “From Aiju, the Energy Area and the Innovative Materials Area work in this European project, about six people.

The investigation

The materials created will allow the creation of freer pieces with electromagnetic shielding, capable of blocking electromagnetic fields. Thus, as explained by the consortium, its new formulation based on polyvinylidene fluoride and graphene is the only technical grade polymeric filament on the market. The material is financed within the framework of Smart-Eureka and Innoglobal through the CDTI.

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“The market for conductive filaments is a young market but with a wide path. Until now, electrically conductive filaments have been limited by factors such as electrical conductivity, high costs, brittleness or their low melting point.” For this reason, the EDM Additive project (New EDM electrodes made with electrically conductive materials through additive manufacturing) was seeking the development of new conductive materials for fused deposition modeling and laser sintering.

So far, the project has developed four formulations. Volumetric and surface conductivity tests were applied to them. The EDM-Additive project has received support from the Eureka Smart program and funding from national organizations in the participating countries (CDTI in Spain, Vinnova in Sweden and Tubitak in Turkey).

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