Fused Filament Fabrication is an extrusion deposition technique in which a thermoplastic filament is melted, pushed through a nozzle and deposited to build, layer-by-layer, custom 3D geometries. Despite being one of the most widely used techniques in 3D printing, there are still some challenges to be addressed. One of them is the accurate control of the extrusion flow. It has been shown that this is affected by a reflux upstream the nozzle. Numerical models have been proposed for the explanation of this back-flow
. However, it is not possible to have optical access to the melting chamber in order to confirm the actual behavior of this annular meniscus. Thus, microfluidics seems to be an excellent platform to tackle this fluid flow problem. In this work, a microfluidic device mimicking the 3D printing nozzle was developed, to study the complex fluid-flow behavior inside it. The principal aim was to investigate the presence of the mentioned back-flow upstream the nozzle contraction. As the microfluidic chip was fabricated by means of soft-lithography, the use of polymer melts was restricted due to technical issues. Thus, the working fluids consisted of two aqueous polymer solutions that allowed replicating the printing flow conditions in terms of Elasticity number and to develop a
flow map. The results demonstrate that the presence of upstream vortices, due to the elasticity of the fluid, is responsible for the back-flow problem.
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