Poly(tetrafluoroethylene) (PTFE) is a unique polymer with highly desirable properties such as resistance to chemical degradation, biocompatibility, hydrophobicity, antistiction, and low friction coefficient. However, due to its high melt viscosity, it is not possible to three-dimensional (3D)-print PTFE structures using nozzle-based extrusion. Here, we report a new and versatile strategy for 3D-printing PTFE structures using direct ink writing (DIW). Our approach is based on a newly formulated PTFE nanoparticle ink and thermal treatment process. The ink was formulated by mixing an aqueous dispersion of surfactant-stabilized PTFE nanoparticles with a binding gum to optimize its shear-thinning properties required for DIW. We developed a multistage thermal treatment to fuse the PTFE nanoparticles, solidify the printed structures, and remove the additives. We have extensively characterized the rheological and mechanical properties and processing parameters of these structures using imaging, mechanical testing, and statistical design of experiments. Importantly, several of the mechanical and structural properties of the final-printed PTFE structures resemble that of compression-molded PTFE, and additionally, the mechanical properties are tunable. We anticipate that this versatile approach facilitates the production of 3D-printed PTFE components using DIW with significant potential applications in engineering and medicine.
Keywords: Teflon; additive manufacturing; composites; fluoropolymer; tunable mechanical properties.