Design and Processing of Ferrite Paste Feedstock for Additive Manufacturing of Power Magnetic Components

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Virginia Tech

Reducing the size of bulky magnetic components (inductors and transformers) in power converters can be achieved by increasing switching frequency and applying innovative designs of magnetic components. Ferrite is the most suitable bulk magnetic material for working at high frequencies but it is difficult to fabricate novel designs of ferrite magnetic components because of the limitations of conventional fabrication methods. Additive manufacturing (AM) has the potential to make customize ferrite magnetic components. One big challenge in 3D printing ferrite magnetic components is the lack of compatible and functional ferrite materials as printers' feedstock. This work focuses on developing ferrite feedstock for 3D printing ferrite magnetic components and providing a guideline for formulating ferrite feedstock by studying the effects of materials and processing parameters on major properties of the ferrite feedstock.

The ferrite feedstock should not only be processable by a 3D printer but also make functional ferrite material that can work in power converters. To meet the requirements, the following four aspects of the feedstock are considered in this study: 1. the feedstock should be sinterable to achieve high enough magnetic permeability; 2. magnetic permeability of the feedstock can be easily tailored; 3. rheological properties of the feedstock should ensure reasonable printing resolution; 4. the feedstock can print high aspect ratio structures without slumping. Based on the four major considerations and the desired properties, materials were selected for formulating the ferrite feedstock. The effects of materials and processing variables on the major properties of the ferrite feedstock need to be studied to develop a formulation guidance of the feedstock.

The effects of materials fractions and the post-printing peak sintering temperature of the feedstock on maximizing magnetic permeability were studied. The peak sintering temperature had a significant impact on permeability and solid loading (SL) and solid loading excluding diluent (SLED) had smaller impacts. Densities and microstructures of the sintered ferrite cores were characterized to illustrate how the variables affect magnetic permeability.

Adding sintering additives to the feedstock was selected as an easy and effective way to tailor the permeability of the ferrite feedstock. The effect of the fractions of two types of additives, SiO2 and Co3O4, on permeability of ferrite were studied. Both SiO2 and Co3O4 can effectively reduce the permeability of the ferrite. A novel multi-permeability toroid core design was 3D-printed with ferrite feedstocks having different fractions of SiO2 to demonstrate the feasibility of fabricating special designs of ferrite magnetics using feedstocks with additives. Core-loss densities of ferrite cores fabricated with feedstocks having different fractions of the two additives were also characterized since it is another important property of ferrite cores in high-frequency converters. Adding SiO2 significantly increases the core-loss density of ferrite cores while adding proper fractions of Co3O4 decreased core-loss density at low magnetic flux densities. The mechanisms of how Co3O4 affect permeability and core-loss density were discussed.

The effect of the solid loading (SL) on print-line width resolution was studied by conducting line printing tests. The experiment results showed the best print-line width resolution was achieved using the feedstock with an intermediate SL. The is, which considered both viscosity of the feedstock and coagulation in the feedstock suspension, were discussed.

The effect of solid loading excluding diluent (SLED) and UV illumination time on the achievable aspect ratio of printed feedstock was studied. Yield shear strength (y) of feedstocks composition versus UV-curing time were characterized. We evaluated various phenomenological models reported in the literature for predicting the critical yield shear strength (y*) required to obtain a paste structure for a certain aspect ratio. Knowing y* would help to determine the shortest time needed for UV illumination. Applying the model that best fitted to our experimental results, we developed a processing guideline that from specified magnetic permeability and dimensions of a ferrite core, would prescribe the needed SLED and the minimal UV curing time for printing. The guideline was demonstrated by the successful fabrication of tall ferrite inductor cores commonly found in power converters.

The main contributions of this study are listed below:

  1. Designed, formulated, and characterized ferrite feedstock that not only has functionality for power electronics applications but is also compatible with a direct extrusion type 3D printer. The feedstock can be made into ferrite cores with relative permeability ranging from 10 to 500 which are much higher than those of soft ferrite feedstocks currently reported elsewhere. The packing densities of 950℃ sintered ferrite cores made from the feedstock can be as high as 95%. With the Hyrel 30M 3D-printer, the smallest nozzle orifice diameter that the feedstock can be extruded from is 0.42 mm. We demonstrated printing of the feedstock into a cylinders with a height of 18 mm and an aspect ratio of 3 without slumping issue.

  2. Identified the effects of materials and processing variales on 4 major considerations of the ferrite feedstock including maximizing sintered packing density, tailoring permeability, print-line resolution, and achievable dimensions of the printed feedstock without slumping. A deeper understanding of the mechanisms of how the variables affect main properties of the feedstock was provided.

  3. Provided a preparation guideline of the ferrite feedstock that prescribe feedstock formulation and UV illumination time per print-layer from the target relative permeability and dimension of a ferrite core.

Additive manufacturing, ferrite, high-frequency power electronics, magnetic components, paste feedstock, formulation guideline