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Nano Today (2013) 8, 119120

Available online at www.sciencedirect.com

journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/nanotoday


3D printing of multifunctional nanocomposites

Thomas A. Campbell , Olga S. Ivanova

Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science (ICTAS), Virginia Tech, United States

Received 3 October 2012; received in revised form 28 November 2012; accepted 6 December 2012
Available online 26 January 2013

KEYWORDS Summary Additive manufacturing (aka, 3D printing) holds strong potential for the forma-
Nanocomposites; tion of a new class of multifunctional nanocomposites. With the ability to print complex 3D
Nanomaterials; objects layer by layer, additive manufacturing with nanomaterials could be leveraged in new
Additive ways toward greater control over material properties across part dimensions. Multifunction-
manufacturing; ality through embedding of nanomaterials can further extend capabilities of nanocomposites
3D printing to properties such as gradients in thermal and electrical conductivity, photonic emissions tun-
able for wavelength, and increased strength and reduced weight. Here we discuss the promises
offered by nanomaterials-based additive manufacturing as a new paradigm for nanocomposite
2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Nanocomposites attract researchers and industry because aka, 3D printing). AM begins with a 3D model of the object,
of their potential combination of properties from both which is then digitized and sliced into model layers with
the nanomaterials and the host materials matrix. The special software. The AM system then prints 2D layers into
allure of nanocomposites is the expectation of dramatic a 3D build, adding each new layer on top of the prior layer.
improvements in properties in areas important to such var- Finally, a 3D object is realized that can frequently be used
ied industries as aerospace, automotive, semiconductor, directly from the printer [3].
plastics, and chemicals [1]. However, challenges remain Could a marriage of nanomaterials and AM offer new
for nanocomposites production in several areas, includ- opportunities in nanocomposites? Adding nanomaterials such
ing processing, cost, consistency and reliability in volume as carbon nanotubes, nanowires, and quantum dots to host
production, high lead time, and oxidative and thermal insta- matrices such as polymers, metals, and ceramics via AM
bility of nanomaterials [2]. New processing techniques with has the potential to enable greater capabilities in nanocom-
an eye toward multifunctionality could offer advantages for posites production. This union of technologies could offer
nanocomposites. clear advantages by the manipulation of fundamental mate-
A research area paralleling the development of nanocom- rial properties in objects (through nanomaterials) that can
posites over recent decades is Additive Manufacturing (AM, possess customized geometries, reduced delay between
design iterations, single tool production, and increased parts
integration (through AM).
Corresponding author at: 325 Stanger Street, ICTAS, MC 0193, Past research has demonstrated promising results on
Suite 410E, Blacksburg, VA 24061, United States. incorporating nanomaterials to AM. Two ways to introduce
Tel.: +1 540 231 8359; fax: +1 540 231 0970. nanomaterials into a 3D print job are: (1) 3D printing of
E-mail address: tomca@vt.edu (T.A. Campbell). the host matrix material with intermittent stoppages of

1748-0132/$ see front matter 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
120 T.A. Campbell, O.S. Ivanova


The authors gratefully acknowledge collaboration with Dr.

Christopher B. Williams of the Department of Mechanical
Engineering and Department of Engineering Education at Vir-
ginia Tech for his insights on Additive Manufacturing. O.I.
gratefully acknowledges ICTAS for her funding as an ICTAS
postdoctoral associate.


[1] C. Allocca, G. Blackman, J. Dasch, J. Hay, K. McIver, T. Nguyen,

in: M.T. Postek, K.W. Lyons, M.S. Ouimette, G.M. Holdridge
(Eds.), Instrumentation, Metrology, and Standards for Nanoman-
Figure 1 Nanocomposites [1]. ufacturing, Workshop of the National Science and Technology
Council Interagency Working Group on Manufacturing Research
the batch print job and introduction of nanomaterials and Development, October 1719, 2006, p. 69.
automatically or manually, and (2) pre-mixing of the [2] V. Patel, Y. Mahajan, in: http://www.nanowerk.com/spotlight/
nanomaterials into the host matrix, followed by 3D printing spotid=23934.php, January 2012 (accessed October 2012).
of the nanocomposite mixture as a complete part. Adding [3] T.A. Campbell, C.B. Williams, O.S. Ivanova, B. Garrett, Strategic
Foresight, Report No. 1, Strategic Foresight Initiative, Atlantic
nanomaterials can improve mechanical properties, increase
Council, 2011.
thermal and electrical conductivity, lower sintering tem- [4] O.S. Ivanova, C.B. Williams, T.A. Campbell, Rapid Prototyping
peratures, and affect dimensional accuracy [4]. This delity J., in press.
of control would offer a powerful toolbox in routine 3D
object production (Fig. 1).
Dr. Thomas A. Campbell is Associate Direc-
To achieve control of material properties requires us to go tor for Outreach and Research Associate
beyond process control issues of nanocomposites. AM meth- Professor with the Institute for Critical
ods have their own limitations (nozzle clogging, aggregation Technology and Applied Science (ICTAS,
within printing media, rough surface nish of printed parts, http://www.ictas.vt.edu) at Virginia Tech.
etc.) when nanoparticles are applied with the respective His research specializations are nano-
printing media. Fundamental questions must be answered materials and additive manufacturing
before nanocomposites can be routinely produced via AM (nanocomposites, additive manufacturing
e.g., what nanomaterials can be applied in what AM systems and metrology, nano-photonics,
processes? What measurement steps are needed to ensure applications, commercialization), and
science and technology policy (bridg-
homogeneity, or in the case of gradient materials, controlled
ing the divide between researchers and policy leaders). He
positioning of the nanomaterials? directs the Laboratory for Engineered Nanosystems (LENS,
More researchers need to become engaged to realize the http://www.ictas.vt.edu/lens/). Tom joined Virginia Tech from
mutual benets of nanotechnology and AM. A recent review ADA Technologies, Inc. (Littleton, CO). Prior to ADA, he was with
article [4] discusses the state of the art. There were a total Saint-Gobain, Inc. (Cleveland, OH), and an Alexander von Humboldt
of only a few dozen articles in the open literature, including Research Fellow with the University of Freiburg (Germany). Tom
peer-reviewed journal articles, conference proceedings and holds a Ph.D. and M.S. in Aerospace Engineering Sciences from
patents. Despite early successes, challenges in the appli- the University of Colorado at Boulder, and a B.E. with Honors
cation of nanomaterials to AM are nevertheless numerous: in Mechanical Engineering from Vanderbilt University (Nashville,
several nanomaterials have yet to be applied in an AM Tennessee).
context; there is little information on the interaction of
nanocomposites with 3D printing material; and standard- Dr. Olga S. Ivanova is an ICTAS Postdoctoral
ized process parameters and synthesis methods for different Associate with Virginia Tech. Her research is
nanomaterials and processes do not yet exist. focused upon synthesis and applications of
nanocomposites via Additive Manufacturing
Both the nanotechnology and AM communities could
systems. She is a member of the American
benet from increased scholarly interactions and collabora- Chemical Society (ACS) and the American
tions. At the recent annual SFF Symposium in Austin, Texas Association for the Advancement of Science
(the major US academic conference on AM), there were only (AAAS). Her Ph.D. research was on electro-
a handful of nanotechnology researchers attending. Simi- chemical stability of metal nanostructures.
larly, it is rare to see AM researchers at nanotechnology con- She holds a Ph.D. and M.S. in Analytical
ferences. Only through such greater engagement between Chemistry from the University of Louisville
the nanotechnology and AM communities can the promises of (Louisville, Kentucky) and a M.S. and B.S. in Physical Chemistry from
3D printing of multifunctional nanocomposites be realized. the Perm State University (Perm, Russia).