Welding of 3D-printed carbon nanotube-polymer composites by locally induced microwave heating.
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Additive manufacturing through material extrusion, often termed three-dimensional (3D) printing, is a burgeoning method for manufacturing thermoplastic components. However, a key obstacle facing 3D-printed plastic parts in engineering applications is the weak weld between successive filament traces, which often leads to delamination and mechanical failure. This is the chief obstacle to the use of thermoplastic additive manufacturing. We report a novel concept for welding 3D-printed thermoplastic interfaces using intense localized heating of carbon nanotubes (CNTs) by microwave irradiation. The microwave heating of the CNT-polymer composites is a function of CNT percolation, as shown through in situ infrared imaging and simulation. We apply CNT-loaded coatings to a 3D printer filament; after printing, microwave irradiation is shown to improve the weld fracture strength by 275%. These remarkable results open up entirely new design spaces for additive manufacturing and also yield new insight into the coupling between dielectric properties and radio frequency field response for nanomaterial networks.