Laser sintering for high electrical conduction applications
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Applications involving high electrical conduction require complex components that are difficult to be manufactured by conventional processes. Laser sintering (LS) is an additive manufacturing technique that overcomes these drawbacks by offering design flexibility. This study focuses upon optimizing the process of laser sintering to manufacture functional prototypes of components used in high electrical conduction applications. Specifically, components for two systems – high current sliding electrical contacts and fuel cells – were designed, manufactured and tested. C-asperity rails were made by LS and tested in a high current sliding electrical setup. Corrugated flow field plates were created by LS and their performance in a direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC) was tested. This is the first experimental attempt at using laser sintering for manufacturing such complex components for use in high electrical conduction applications. The second part of this study involves optimization the laser sintering process. Towards this, efforts were made to improve the green strength of parts made by LS. Particle size of graphite/ phenolic resin and addition of nylon/11 and wax were tested for their effect upon green strength. Of these, significant improvement of green strength was observed by altering the particle size of the graphite/ phenolic resin system. New methods of improving green strength by employing fast cure phenolic resins with carbon fiber additions were successfully demonstrated. This study also identified a binder system and process parameters for indirect LS of stainless steel –for bipolar plate compression/ injection mold tooling. All the experimental results of this study lead us to believe that laser sintering can be developed as a robust and efficient process for the manufacture of specialized components used in advanced electrical conduction systems.