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[Image above] Credit: Scott Schiller; Flickr CC BY 2.0

Computational studies are an increasingly important component of materials research because they afford the ability to generate more competitive materials that are made faster, better, and more efficiently.

So perhaps it’s no surprise that researchers at Fraunhofer Institute for Mechanics of Materials IWM in Freiburg, Germany, have figured out to improve ceramic tape casting without performing any experiments.

Tape casting is a method for fabricating thin layers of ceramic, or most any other material that can be prepared as a liquid slurry. Ceramic tapes are important components in a variety of applications, such as temperature sensors, filter systems, solid oxide fuel cells, and piezoelectric devices.

Although ceramic tapes are important components in these technologies, however, the tapes’ specific properties are usually only achieved through trial and error, rather than direct testing and optimization.

Trial and error is costly for manufacturers—it wastes material and product and it costs a factory and its workers time. But what if you could predict the properties of a tape before it’s even cast?

The Fraunhofer team is looking to do just that with newly developed software that allows manufacturers to predict the properties a tape-cast product will have by examining characteristics of its materials.

The software, called SimPARTIX, simulates the unknown factors in the tape casting process, predicting what happens—macroscopically and microscopically—during fabrication.

“Our SimPARTIX software allows us to take a multi-scale approach to simulating the tape casting process and shows us exactly what effect individual parameters have on the properties of the tape,” Fraunhofer scientist Pit Polfer says in a Fraunhofer press release.

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In the bottom panel, macroscopic simulation reveals flow lines during the casting process. The ceramic slurry enters the system on the right and exits the casting chamber on the left as a tape. In the top panel, microscopic simulation shows alignment of the ceramic particles at two points in the process. Credit: Fraunhofer IWM

Macroscopically, the software provides insight into how the slurry travels through production machinery, with an aim of identifying areas where the slurry sits too long and starts to degrade. Degraded slurry negatively impacts the properties of the resultant tape that is cast with the slurry.

“The simulation shows manufacturers how the casting chamber’s geometry affects the slurry flow,” according to the release. “Where does the liquid ceramic get stuck? How does the flow pattern change when you change the geometry of the doctor blade? Simulating these changes allows ceramic manufacturers to try out promising casting chamber geometries in a virtual environment first, thus sidestepping the high cost of testing experimental doctor blades on real production lines.”

Microscopically, the software models ceramic particle alignment, providing a comprehensive view of micrometer-scale dynamics of the slurry and the subsequent cast tape, too.

The release continues: “For example, they investigate what impact individual ceramic particles have on each other and how they are aligned in space. Running the calculations for all the slurry in this way would be far too complex, so instead the researchers pick out different drops of liquid in the material. How do these droplets make their way through the system? And how are the ceramic particles aligned in these droplets?”

“We can then extrapolate these calculations to infer the behavior of the ceramic slurry as a whole,” Polfer says in the release.

This information is critical to manufacturers, who can apply the knowledge to their production lines to optimize manufacturing processes, reducing waste and producing higher-quality products.

SimPARTIX’s simulations don’t stop at tape casting, however—the software can help predict the dynamics in other fluid or granular systems, too. Fraunhofer researchers have already demonstrated the software’s utility through case studies of die filling, screen printing, sintering, wire sawing, abrasive machining, and more. 

What other industrial processes or systems do you think could benefit from high-tech simulations like SimPARTIX?