Design and Fabrication of a Mask Projection Microstereolithography System for the Characterization and Processing of Novel Photopolymer Resins

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Virginia Tech


The goal of this work was to design and build a mask projection microstereolithography (MPμSL) 3D printing system to characterize, process, and quantify the performance of novel photopolymers. MPμSL is an Additive Manufacturing process that uses DLP technology to digitally pattern UV light and selectively cure entire layers of photopolymer resin and fabricate a three dimensional part. For the MPμSL system designed in this body of work, a process was defined to introduce novel photopolymers and characterize their performance. The characterization process first determines the curing characteristics of the photopolymer, namely the Critical Exposure (Ec) and Depth of Penetration (Dp). Performance of the photopolymer is identified via the fabrication of a benchmark test part, designed to determine the minimum feature size, XY plane accuracy, Z-axis minimum feature size, and Z-axis accuracy of each photopolymer with the system.

The first characterized photopolymer was poly (propylene glycol) diacrylate, which was used to benchmark the designed MPμSL system. This included the achievable XY resolution (212 micrometers), minimum layer thickness (20 micrometers), vertical build rate (360 layers/hr), and maximum build volume (6x8x36mm3). This system benchmarking process revealed two areas of underperformance when compared to systems of similar design, which lead to the development of the first two research questions: (i) 'How does minimum feature size vary with exposure energy?' and (ii) 'How does Z-axis accuracy vary with increasing Tinuvin 400 concentration in the prepolymer?' The experiment for research question (i) revealed that achievable feature size decreases by 67% with a 420% increase in exposure energy. Introducing 0.25wt% of the photo-inhibitor Tinuvin 400 demonstrated depth of penetration reduction from 398.5 micrometers to 119.7 micrometers. This corresponds to a decrease in Z-axis error from 119% (no Tinuvin 400) to 9% Z-axis error (0.25% Tinuvin 400).

Two novel photopolymers were introduced to the system and characterized. Research question (iii) asks 'What are the curing characteristics of Pluronic L-31 how does it perform in the MPμSL system?' while Research Question 4 similarly queries 'What are the curing characteristics of Phosphonium Ionic Liquid and how does it perform in the MPμSL system?' The Pluronic L-31 with 2wt% photo-initiator had an Ec of 17.2 mJ/cm2 and a Dp of 288.8 micrometers, with a minimum feature size of 57.3 ± 5.7 micrometers, with XY plane error of 6% and a Z-axis error of 83%. Phosphonium Ionic Liquid was mixed in various concentrations into two base polymers, Butyl Diacrylate (0% PIL and 10% PIL) and Poly Ethylene Dimethacrylate (5% PIL, 15% PIL, 25% PIL). Introducing PIL into either base polymer caused the Ec to increase in all samples, while there is no significant trend between increasing concentrations of IL in either PEGDMA or BDA and depth of penetration. Any trends previously identified between penetration depth and Z accuracy do not seem to extend from one resin to another. This means that overall, among all resins, depth of penetration is not an accurate way to predict the Z axis accuracy of a part. Furthermore, increasing concentrations of PIL caused increasing % error in both XY plane and Z-axis accuracy .



Mask Projection Microstereolithography, Stereolithography, Vat Polymerization, Tissue Scaffolds, Novel Photopolymer