Proceedings of the
9th International Conference of Asian Society for Precision Engineering and Nanotechnology (ASPEN2022)
15 – 18 November 2022, Singapore

Vapour Smoothening Process to Improve Surface Finish of FDM 3D Printed Ultem Components

Zhou Sha1, Yujie Zhou1, Zhaohong Huang1,a, Guo Ying Zheng2, Yongjie Zhang1 and Leonard Songyin Chai

1Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology, Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), 2 Fusionopolis Way, #08-04, Innovis, 138634, Singapore

2Additive Manufacturing Development Centre, ST Engineering Aerospace Ltd., 540 Airport Road, Paya Lebar, 539938, Singapore


As one of the most popular additive manufacturing techniques, fused deposition modeling (FDM) deposits melted filament material on a build platform layer by layer to construct 3D models. Due to the layered nature of FDM process, the printed components exhibit poor surface quality with a contour-like appearance. To enhance the practicability of FDM 3D printed components, especially to make them comparable to those produced by injection molding in surface finish, post-treatment is necessary. The polyetherimide (PEI) Ultem™ 9085 (Ultem) is an engineering-grade thermoplastic with outstanding chemical and mechanical properties that are suitable for industrial purposes. In particular, owing to its high strength-to-weight ratio, outstanding impact strength, remarkable heat resistance and flame retardant performance, Ultem has been receiving great interest from aerospace industries. As one of the high performance filament materials, the FDM technique further extends the applicability of Ultem in diverse industry fields. In this study, we demonstrated a vapour smoothening based post-treatment technology to improve the surface finish of FDM 3D printed Ultem components. In our self-made vapour smoothening system, treatment on the Ultem components was totally controllable. Through using selected solvent with suitable process parameters, the surface finish of the components could be significantly improved without degrading the mechanical properties. After the vapour smoothening treatment within 30 min, surface roughness (Ra) of the 3D printed Ultem components was reduced from as-printed ~20 µm to less than 0.8 µm. Meanwhile, the environmental barrier performance and appearance aesthetics were also improved. This study highlights the vapour smoothening system design and the optimized process for post-treatment of 3D printed Ultem components.

Keywords: Additive manufacturing, PEI Ultem, Vapour Smoothening, Surface Roughness.

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