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Smart Printing: Precise Fiber Alignment in Stereolithography (SLA) 3D Printing of Composite Polymers

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Conference Abstract: Over the past few decades, 3D printing, or additive manufacturing (AM), has experienced substantial growth, with widespread adoption in consumer and light industrial sectors. However, the technology's functional capabilities are hindered by constraints related to material properties and the inability to produce composite materials. Stereolithography (SLA), a rapid prototyping technique employing a focused ultraviolet (UV) light beam, boasts a significant edge over alternative methods. Its remarkably high resolution, achieved by printing incredibly thin layers, facilitates the meticulous reproduction of intricate details within the object. The current commercially available SLA printers are marked by inherent limitations and face challenges such as anisotropic mechanical properties, particularly in the production of composites with controlled fiber orientation. Accurate control over fiber orientation is crucial in applications of composite materials in sensitive industries such as aerospace, medicine, thermal, and computing. This paper addresses these limitations through a novel approach that integrates an electromagnetic fiber alignment system into an in-house-developed SLA 3D printer. These electromagnets manipulate reinforcing fibers magnetically in real-time during the printing process, ensuring controlled and uniform alignment in 0 and 90 degrees. The result is a significant enhancement in the mechanical properties of the produced composites. This innovative approach not only addresses the drawbacks of traditional SLA 3D printing but also opens new avenues for creating objects with improved strength, resilience, and diverse thermal and electrical properties. This technological breakthrough holds great promise for revolutionizing component manufacturing across critical sectors such as aerospace, automotive, medical, computers, and consumer goods.