Alumna creating new & innovative 3D prints using glass flakes

Umema Khan
Umema Khan

Umema Khan (ChemE MASc 2021), a Materials Print Engineer at Markforged, applies the knowledge she’s gained during her grad studies to continue to create new and innovative 3D printing material formulations with additional kinds of 3D printing technologies.

Under the supervision of Dr. Mark Kortschot, Khan investigated new and innovative 3D printing materials. In her research titled, High stiffness glass flake reinforced composites produced using inverted stereolithography, Khan used a method of 3D printing called inverted stereolithography (iSLA). This method typically has fewer applications reliant on mechanical properties since the resins used do not have the properties to withstand the weight of such applications.

One of the major benefits of iSLA over other forms of 3D printing is its dimensional accuracy. “Within research, there was a major gap in combining customization of 3D printing combined with the precision of iSLA and the capability to withstand loadbearing applications,” Khan says. “I was able to bridge this gap by incorporating glass flakes into these resins and create a material that had a modulus of over 10GPa with the ability to increase this further. This is something that was beyond what was previously thought to have been achievable with this technology.”

Khan says what makes this research innovative is that using glass flakes circumvents the flow issues created by more traditional methods of reinforcing polymers, such as glass fibers and spherical particles, which affect the flow of the 3D printing process. “By incorporating glass flakes, I was able to achieve strong final mechanical properties and was simultaneously able to achieve successful prints.”

3D printed bird on a pumpkin
A sample of a fun metal print Umema made during her time at ChemE

Although her work is not yet published, Khan is hopeful that her research will soon open up doors for applications that will require precision, advanced 3D printing, and load-bearing capabilities.

Through the knowledge and experience that she gained during her graduate work, Khan now works on independently formulating and optimizing new materials based on their ability to print alongside their final material properties. In her role as a Materials Print Engineer at Markforged, she works with a different type of 3D printing technology called Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF), but also works to develop new materials that the company will ultimately sell to customers.