Thermomechanical and rheological properties of investment casting patterns

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Tewo, Robert Kimutai
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Vaal University of Technology
Investment casting process is the most suitable technique for producing high quality castings which are dimensionally accurate with excellent surface finish and complex in nature. Recently with the ever-changing manufacturing landscape, the process has been increasingly used to produce components for the medical, aerospace and sports industry. The present study looked at three investigative scenarios in the development of a pattern material for investment casting process: (i) the development of wax/ethyl vinyl acetate (EVA) and wax/linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE) blends as the carrier vehicle materials for the development of pattern material for investment casting; (ii) the development of wax/EVA/polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) based investment casting pattern and lastly (iii) the development of wax/LLDPE/PMMA based investment casting pattern material. The first part of the studies elucidates the effects in terms of the thermal, mechanical, surface and rheological properties when paraffin wax in blended with poly EVA and LLDPE. The developments involved the extrusion of seven formulations for EVA and also LLDPE using a twin-screw extrusion compounder. The paraffin wax weight percent investigated ranged from 33% to 87% thus encompassing both low and high wax loading ratios. The thermal properties of the developed binary blends were characterized via thermogravimetric analysis (TGA) and differential scanning calorimetry (DSC). The mechanical properties were characterized using three-point bending test. The thermo-mechanical and rheological properties were determined using thermomechanical analysis (TMA) and a rheometer respectively. A scanning electron microscope (SEM) was used to study the surface texture of the extruded blends. The thermal properties indicated that the thermal stability of paraffin wax is improved when it is blended with both EVA and LLDPE. DSC curves showed two endothermic melting peaks and two exothermic crystallisation peaks. In the case of wax/EVA blends, there was no distinct peak showing the independent melting of neat wax and EVA. The peak at a temperature of 50 – 72 °C corresponds to the melting of the wax/EVA blend. In the case of wax/LLDPE blends, the peak at 50 -66 °C corresponds to the melting of wax whereas the large peak at 112 - 125°C corresponds to the melting of the LLDPE. Wax/EVA and wax/LLDPE had improved mechanical properties as compared to that of neat wax. The rheological properties of both the EVA based and LLDPE based blends indicated that the viscosity of the blends increased as compared to that of neat wax. SEM confirmed that EVA alters the wax crystal habit at higher concentrations. In the case of wax/LLDPE blends, at 20-30 % wax content, a heterogeneous surface was observed, indicating the immiscibility of the paraffin wax within the LLDPE matrix. At a high wax content, there was agglomeration of wax. LLDPE allows amorphous structure of wax to disperse easily between the chains. The second part of the studies focussed on the wax/EVA filled with poly (methyl methacrylate) (PMMA) microbeads. TGA behaviour on the pyrolysis of wax/EVA/PMMA showed that the compounds volatilise readily with virtually no residue remaining above 500 °C. The DSC curves indicated that, the incorporation of PMMA reduced the crystallinity of wax/EVA blend. A distinct endothermic peak and another small peak was observed in all the formulations. The mechanical properties of wax/EVA/PMMA improved significantly. The methylene group present in both wax and EVA combined to form a blend with enhanced mechanical properties whereas the PMMA microbeads improved the needle penetration hardness. The melt viscosity of wax/EVA/PMMA increased as the EVA and/or the PMMA content is increased. The rheological experimental data fitted with the data predicted using the modified Krieger and Dougherty expression. The maximum attainable volume fraction of suspended PMMA particles was at max = 0.81. The SEM micrograph of wax/EVA/PMMA revealed a near perfect spherical nature for the filler particles in the wax/EVA polymer matrix. It further shows that the PMMA microbeads were weakly bonded and well distributed in the wax/EVA matrix. The third part of the studies focussed on the wax/LLDPE filled with Poly (methyl methacrylate) (PMMA) microbeads. The incorporation of LLDPE and PMMA into paraffin wax had a strong influence on the thermal properties, tensile properties, flow properties and its morphology. The TGA analysis showed that there was a slight observable decrease in the melting onset temperatures when the wax content was increased. From the DSC curves, the corresponding values of onset temperatures observed are between melting and crystallization temperature of neat paraffin wax and neat LLDPE. The short chains of the paraffin wax and the fragments formed by scission of wax chain have sufficient energy to escape from the matrix at lower temperatures. The slight decrease in peak temperatures associated with melting and crystallization could be attributed to the decrease in the average lamellar thickness of the blends. The tensile properties by three-point bending tests indicated an increase in the stress with an increase in the LLDPE content. This can be attributed to the formation of paraffin wax crystals in the amorphous phase of the blend which may influence the chain mobility. Since the paraffin wax used for this study had a low viscosity as compared to LLDPE, both LLDPE or PMMA had an influence on the viscosities of the blends. The data obtained from the experiments fitted with the data predicted obtained from the modified Krieger and Dougherty expression. The maximum attainable volume fraction of suspended PMMA particles was at max = 0.74. Similar observation with that of wax/EVA/PMMA was made in terms of the morphology of the wax/LLDPE/PMMA blends. The excellent thermal stabilities, the superior mechanical strength of wax/EVA/PMMA and wax/LLDPE/PMMA and the flow properties with relatively high EVA and also with high PMMA loadings, open new opportunities for EVA and LLDPE based pattern material for in investment casting process. It is worth pursuing further comprehensive studies since it offers a strong potential for realizing further technological improvement in the field of investment casting and rapid prototyping technologies.
Ph. D. (Department of Chemical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and Technology), Vaal University of Technology.
Paraffin wax, Ethylene vinyl acetate, Linear-low density polyethylene, Poly methyl methacrylate, Investment casting, Rheology, Thermal stability, Three-point bending tests