Here at 3D Rapid Print, one of the fastest growing 3D Printing companies in the Thames Valley, we like to keep abreast of the latest innovations in 3D printing.

On April 7th 2020, Purdue University of West Lafayette, Indiana spoke of how a group of its researchers were engaging in ongoing research into using 3D printed mineral rock structures to better understand the formation of material fractures. This was led by physics professor Laura Pyrak-Nolte and physics graduate student Liyang Jiang, with some of the team’s results being published in the journal Scientific Reports back in February.

Purdue argued that better predicting and understanding fracture formation is profoundly important to a broad range of fields, including improving the safety and efficiency of carbon sequestration, disposing of nuclear waste and the production natural gas. (Carbon sequestration refers to the long-term removal of carbon dioxide from the Earth’s atmosphere.) In addition, they contended that better predicting and understanding fracture formation is important in improving the structural integrity of large 3D printed structures like bridges, and potentially even human habitats on other planets.

The 3D printed mineral structures were made from bassanite powder sprayed with a water-based binder solution, causing a chemical reaction to produce a structure made of gypsum, the properties of which can be controlled via a computer program before printing. Without the ability to make mineral structures this way, the team either had to study rock samples in nature, or casts formed by mixing mineral powder and water. Neither of these methods could be relied upon to deliver the quantifiable and reproducible results that the team needed.

Jiang discovered that when the layers and minerals of the 3D printed structure were oriented in the same direction, and a certain kind of mechanical stress was applied, fractures tended to form that were corrugated like corrugated cardboard. (These sorts of corrugations form in nature, especially in sedimentary rocks.) Subsequently, the team tested rock samples made via a traditional casting method to make their properties random. They found that in rock samples with no layers or oriented grains, fractures formed smoothly with no corrugations. However, different roughnesses appeared in each sample due to the rocks made this way having different mechanical properties.

Pyrak-Nolte argued that if the team could understand how the corrugations were made, just by looking at the rock sample, they could infer the geometry of how it would fracture, as well predict preferential fluid flow paths through it. This works the other way as well, i.e. inferring something about a rock sample’s mineral orientation just by analysing how it fractures.

3D printing is an amazing tool. It can grow your small business or start a mini revolution in an industry. Explore what it can do for you when you contact us today.

Disclaimer: Featured image of “Crumbling Rocks” is a faithful photographic reproduction of a two-dimensional, public domain work of art. The work of art itself is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less.