Coupled CFD-DEM simulation of interfacial fluid–particle interaction during binder jet 3D printing

바인더 제트 3D 프린팅 중 계면 유체-입자 상호 작용에 대한 CFD-DEM 결합 시뮬레이션

Joshua J. Wagner, C. Fred Higgs III


The coupled dynamics of interfacial fluid phases and unconstrained solid particles during the binder jet 3D printing process govern the final quality and performance of the resulting components. The present work proposes a computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and discrete element method (DEM) framework capable of simulating the complex interfacial fluid–particle interaction that occurs when binder microdroplets are deposited into a powder bed. The CFD solver uses a volume-of-fluid (VOF) method for capturing liquid–gas multifluid flows and relies on block-structured adaptive mesh refinement (AMR) to localize grid refinement around evolving fluid–fluid interfaces. The DEM module resolves six degrees of freedom particle motion and accounts for particle contact, cohesion, and rolling resistance. Fully-resolved CFD-DEM coupling is achieved through a fictitious domain immersed boundary (IB) approach. An improved method for enforcing three-phase contact lines with a VOF-IB extension technique is introduced. We present several simulations of binder jet primitive formation using realistic process parameters and material properties. The DEM particle systems are experimentally calibrated to reproduce the cohesion behavior of physical nickel alloy powder feedstocks. We demonstrate the proposed model’s ability to resolve the interdependent fluid and particle dynamics underlying the process by directly comparing simulated primitive granules with one-to-one experimental counterparts obtained from an in-house validation apparatus. This computational framework provides unprecedented insight into the fundamental mechanisms of binder jet 3D printing and presents a versatile new approach for process parameter optimization and defect mitigation that avoids the inherent challenges of experiments.

바인더 젯 3D 프린팅 공정 중 계면 유체 상과 구속되지 않은 고체 입자의 결합 역학이 결과 구성 요소의 최종 품질과 성능을 좌우합니다. 본 연구는 바인더 미세액적이 분말층에 증착될 때 발생하는 복잡한 계면 유체-입자 상호작용을 시뮬레이션할 수 있는 전산유체역학(CFD) 및 이산요소법(DEM) 프레임워크를 제안합니다.

CFD 솔버는 액체-가스 다중유체 흐름을 포착하기 위해 VOF(유체량) 방법을 사용하고 블록 구조 적응형 메쉬 세분화(AMR)를 사용하여 진화하는 유체-유체 인터페이스 주위의 그리드 세분화를 국지화합니다. DEM 모듈은 6개의 자유도 입자 운동을 해결하고 입자 접촉, 응집력 및 구름 저항을 설명합니다.

완전 분해된 CFD-DEM 결합은 가상 도메인 침지 경계(IB) 접근 방식을 통해 달성됩니다. VOF-IB 확장 기술을 사용하여 3상 접촉 라인을 강화하는 향상된 방법이 도입되었습니다. 현실적인 공정 매개변수와 재료 특성을 사용하여 바인더 제트 기본 형성에 대한 여러 시뮬레이션을 제시합니다.

DEM 입자 시스템은 물리적 니켈 합금 분말 공급원료의 응집 거동을 재현하기 위해 실험적으로 보정되었습니다. 우리는 시뮬레이션된 기본 과립과 내부 검증 장치에서 얻은 일대일 실험 대응물을 직접 비교하여 프로세스의 기본이 되는 상호 의존적인 유체 및 입자 역학을 해결하는 제안된 모델의 능력을 보여줍니다.

이 계산 프레임워크는 바인더 제트 3D 프린팅의 기본 메커니즘에 대한 전례 없는 통찰력을 제공하고 실험에 내재된 문제를 피하는 공정 매개변수 최적화 및 결함 완화를 위한 다용도의 새로운 접근 방식을 제시합니다.


Binder jet 3D printing (BJ3DP) is a powder bed additive manufacturing (AM) technology capable of fabricating geometrically complex components from advanced engineering materials, such as metallic superalloys and ultra-high temperature ceramics [1], [2]. As illustrated in Fig. 1(a), the process is comprised of many repetitive print cycles, each contributing a new cross-sectional layer on top of a preceding one to form a 3D CAD-specified geometry. The feedstock material is first delivered from a hopper to a build plate and then spread into a thin layer by a counter-rotating roller. After powder spreading, a print head containing many individual inkjet nozzles traverses over the powder bed while precisely jetting binder microdroplets onto select regions of the spread layer. Following binder deposition, the build plate lowers by a specified layer thickness, leaving a thin void space at the top of the job box that the subsequent powder layer will occupy. This cycle repeats until the full geometries are formed layer by layer. Powder bed fusion (PBF) methods follow a similar procedure, except they instead use a laser or electron beam to selectively melt and fuse the powder material. Compared to PBF, binder jetting offers several distinct advantages, including faster build rates, enhanced scalability for large production volumes, reduced machine and operational costs, and a wider selection of suitable feedstock materials [2]. However, binder jetted parts generally possess inferior mechanical properties and reduced dimensional accuracy [3]. As a result, widescale adoption of BJ3DP to fabricate high-performance, mission-critical components, such as those common to the aerospace and defense sectors, is contingent on novel process improvements and innovations [4].

A major obstacle hindering the advancement of BJ3DP is our limited understanding of how various printing parameters and material properties collectively influence the underlying physical mechanisms of the process and their effect on the resulting components. To date, the vast majority of research efforts to uncover these relationships have relied mainly on experimental approaches [5], [6], [7], [8], [9], [10], [11], [12], [13], [14], [15], [16], [17], [18], [19], which are often expensive and time-consuming and have inherent physical restrictions on what can be measured and observed. For these reasons, there is a rapidly growing interest in using computational models to circumvent the challenges of experimental investigations and facilitate a deeper understanding of the process’s fundamental phenomena. While significant progress has been made in developing and deploying numerical frameworks aimed at powder spreading [20], [21], [22], [23], [24], [25], [26], [27] and sintering [28], [29], [30], [31], [32], simulating the interfacial fluid–particle interaction (IFPI) in the binder deposition stage is still in its infancy. In their exhaustive review, Mostafaei et al. [2] point out the lack of computational models capable of resolving the coupled fluid and particle dynamics associated with binder jetting and suggest that the development of such tools is critical to further improving the process and enhancing the quality of its end-use components.

We define IFPI as a multiphase flow regime characterized by immiscible fluid phases separated by dynamic interfaces that intersect the surfaces of moving solid particles. As illustrated in Fig. 1(b), an elaborate IFPI occurs when a binder droplet impacts the powder bed in BJ3DP. The momentum transferred from the impacting droplet may cause powder compaction, cratering, and particle ejection. These ballistic disturbances can have deleterious effects on surface texture and lead to the formation of large void spaces inside the part [5], [13]. After impact, the droplet spreads laterally on the bed surface and vertically into the pore network, driven initially by inertial impact forces and then solely by capillary action [33]. Attractive capillary forces exerted on mutually wetted particles tend to draw them inward towards each other, forming a packed cluster of bound particles referred to as a primitive [34]. A single-drop primitive is the most fundamental building element of a BJ3DP part, and the interaction leading to its formation has important implications on the final part characteristics, such as its mechanical properties, resolution, and dimensional accuracy. Generally, binder droplets are deposited successively as the print head traverses over the powder bed. The traversal speed and jetting frequency are set such that consecutive droplets coalesce in the bed, creating a multi-drop primitive line instead of a single-drop primitive granule. The binder must be jetted with sufficient velocity to penetrate the powder bed deep enough to provide adequate interlayer binding; however, a higher impact velocity leads to more pronounced ballistic effects.

A computational framework equipped to simulate the interdependent fluid and particle dynamics in BJ3DP would allow for unprecedented observational and measurement capability at temporal and spatial resolutions not currently achievable by state-of-the-art imaging technology, namely synchrotron X-ray imaging [13], [14], [18], [19]. Unfortunately, BJ3DP presents significant numerical challenges that have slowed the development of suitable modeling frameworks; the most significant of which are as follows:

  • 1.Incorporating dynamic fluid–fluid interfaces with complex topological features remains a nontrivial task for standard mesh-based CFD codes. There are two broad categories encompassing the methods used to handle interfacial flows: interface tracking and interface capturing [35]. Interface capturing techniques, such as the popular volume-of-fluid (VOF) [36] and level-set methods [37], [38], are better suited for problems with interfaces that become heavily distorted or when coalescence and fragmentation occur frequently; however, they are less accurate in resolving surface tension and boundary layer effects compared to interface tracking methods like front-tracking [39], arbitrary Lagrangian–Eulerian [40], and space–time finite element formulations [41]. Since interfacial forces become increasingly dominant at decreasing length scales, inaccurate surface tension calculations can significantly deteriorate the fidelity of IFPI simulations involving <100 μm droplets and particles.
  • 2.Dynamic powder systems are often modeled using the discrete element method (DEM) introduced by Cundall and Strack [42]. For IFPI problems, a CFD-DEM coupling scheme is required to exchange information between the fluid and particle solvers. Fully-resolved CFD-DEM coupling suggests that the flow field around individual particle surfaces is resolved on the CFD mesh [43], [44]. In contrast, unresolved coupling volume averages the effect of the dispersed solid phase on the continuous fluid phases [45], [46], [47], [48]. Comparatively, the former is computationally expensive but provides detailed information about the IFPI in question and is more appropriate when contact line dynamics are significant. However, since the pore structure of a powder bed is convoluted and evolves with time, resolving such solid–fluid interfaces on a computational mesh presents similar challenges as fluid–fluid interfaces discussed in the previous point. Although various algorithms have been developed to deform unstructured meshes to accommodate moving solid surfaces (see Bazilevs et al. [49] for an overview of such methods), they can be prohibitively expensive when frequent topology changes require mesh regeneration rather than just modification through nodal displacement. The pore network in a powder bed undergoes many topology changes as particles come in and out of contact with each other, constantly closing and opening new flow channels. Non-body-conforming structured grid approaches that rely on immersed boundary (IB) methods to embed the particles in the flow field can be better suited for such cases [50]. Nevertheless, accurately representing these complex pore geometries on Cartesian grids requires extremely high mesh resolutions, which can impose significant computational costs.
  • 3.Capillary effects depend on the contact angle at solid–liquid–gas intersections. Since mesh nodes do not coincide with a particle surface when using an IB method on structured grids, imposing contact angle boundary conditions at three-phase contact lines is not straightforward.

While these issues also pertain to PBF process modeling, resolving particle motion is generally less crucial for analyzing melt pool dynamics compared to primitive formation in BJ3DP. Therefore, at present, the vast majority of computational process models of PBF assume static powder beds and avoid many of the complications described above, see, e.g., [51], [52], [53], [54], [55], [56], [57], [58], [59]. Li et al. [60] presented the first 2D fully-resolved CFD-DEM simulations of the interaction between the melt pool, powder particles, surrounding gas, and metal vapor in PBF. Following this work, Yu and Zhao [61], [62] published similar melt pool IFPI simulations in 3D; however, contact line dynamics and capillary forces were not considered. Compared to PBF, relatively little work has been published regarding the computational modeling of binder deposition in BJ3DP. Employing the open-source VOF code Gerris [63], Tan [33] first simulated droplet impact on a powder bed with appropriate binder jet parameters, namely droplet size and impact velocity. However, similar to most PBF melt pool simulations described in the current literature, the powder bed was fixed in place and not allowed to respond to the interacting fluid phases. Furthermore, a simple face-centered cubic packing of non-contacting, monosized particles was considered, which does not provide a realistic pore structure for AM powder beds. Building upon this approach, we presented a framework to simulate droplet impact on static powder beds with more practical particle size distributions and packing arrangements [64]. In a study similar to [33], [64], Deng et al. [65] used the VOF capability in Ansys Fluent to examine the lateral and vertical spreading of a binder droplet impacting a fixed bimodal powder bed with body-centered packing. Li et al. [66] also adopted Fluent to conduct 2D simulations of a 100 μm diameter droplet impacting substrates with spherical roughness patterns meant to represent the surface of a simplified powder bed with monosized particles. The commercial VOF-based software FLOW-3D offers an AM module centered on process modeling of various AM technologies, including BJ3DP. However, like the above studies, particle motion is still not considered in this codebase. Ur Rehman et al. [67] employed FLOW-3D to examine microdroplet impact on a fixed stainless steel powder bed. Using OpenFOAM, Erhard et al. [68] presented simulations of different droplet impact spacings and patterns on static sand particles.

Recently, Fuchs et al. [69] introduced an impressive multipurpose smoothed particle hydrodynamics (SPH) framework capable of resolving IFPI in various AM methods, including both PBF and BJ3DP. In contrast to a combined CFD-DEM approach, this model relies entirely on SPH meshfree discretization of both the fluid and solid governing equations. The authors performed several prototype simulations demonstrating an 80 μm diameter droplet impacting an unconstrained powder bed at different speeds. While the powder bed responds to the hydrodynamic forces imparted by the impacting droplet, the particle motion is inconsistent with experimental time-resolved observations of the process [13]. Specifically, the ballistic effects, such as particle ejection and bed deformation, were drastically subdued, even in simulations using a droplet velocity ∼ 5× that of typical jetting conditions. This behavior could be caused by excessive damping in the inter-particle contact force computations within their SPH framework. Moreover, the wetted particles did not appear to be significantly influenced by the strong capillary forces exerted by the binder as no primitive agglomeration occurred. The authors mention that the objective of these simulations was to demonstrate their codebase’s broad capabilities and that some unrealistic process parameters were used to improve computational efficiency and stability, which could explain the deviations from experimental observations.

In the present paper, we develop a novel 3D CFD-DEM numerical framework for simulating fully-resolved IFPI during binder jetting with realistic material properties and process parameters. The CFD module is based on the VOF method for capturing binder–air interfaces. Surface tension effects are realized through the continuum surface force (CSF) method with height function calculations of interface curvature. Central to our fluid solver is a proprietary block-structured AMR library with hierarchical octree grid nesting to focus enhanced grid resolution near fluid–fluid interfaces. The GPU-accelerated DEM module considers six degrees of freedom particle motion and includes models based on Hertz-Mindlin contact, van der Waals cohesion, and viscoelastic rolling resistance. The CFD and DEM modules are coupled to achieve fully-resolved IFPI using an IB approach in which Lagrangian solid particles are mapped to the underlying Eulerian fluid mesh through a solid volume fraction field. An improved VOF-IB extension algorithm is introduced to enforce the contact angle at three-phase intersections. This provides robust capillary flow behavior and accurate computations of the fluid-induced forces and torques acting on individual wetted particles in densely packed powder beds.

We deploy our integrated codebase for direct numerical simulations of single-drop primitive formation with powder beds whose particle size distributions are generated from corresponding laboratory samples. These simulations use jetting parameters similar to those employed in current BJ3DP machines, fluid properties that match commonly used aqueous polymeric binders, and powder properties specific to nickel alloy feedstocks. The cohesion behavior of the DEM powder is calibrated based on the angle of repose of the laboratory powder systems. The resulting primitive granules are compared with those obtained from one-to-one experiments conducted using a dedicated in-house test apparatus. Finally, we demonstrate how the proposed framework can simulate more complex and realistic printing operations involving multi-drop primitive lines.

Section snippets

Mathematical description of interfacial fluid–particle interaction

This section briefly describes the governing equations of fluid and particle dynamics underlying the CFD and DEM solvers. Our unified framework follows an Eulerian–Lagrangian approach, wherein the Navier–Stokes equations of incompressible flow are discretized on an Eulerian grid to describe the motion of the binder liquid and surrounding gas, and the Newton–Euler equations account for the positions and orientations of the Lagrangian powder particles. The mathematical foundation for

CFD solver for incompressible flow with multifluid interfaces

This section details the numerical methodology used in our CFD module to solve the Navier–Stokes equations of incompressible flow. First, we introduce the VOF method for capturing the interfaces between the binder and air phases. This approach allows us to solve the fluid dynamics equations considering only a single continuum field with spatial and temporal variations in fluid properties. Next, we describe the time integration procedure using a fractional-step projection algorithm for

DEM solver for solid particle dynamics

This section covers the numerical procedure for tracking the motion of individual powder particles with DEM. The Newton–Euler equations (Eqs. (10), (11)) are ordinary differential equations (ODEs) for which many established numerical integrators are available. In general, the most challenging aspects of DEM involve processing particle collisions in a computationally efficient manner and dealing with small time step constraints that result from stiff materials, such as metallic AM powders. The

Unified CFD-DEM solver

The preceding sections have introduced the CFD and DEM solution algorithms separately. Here, we discuss the integrated CFD-DEM solution algorithm and related details.

Binder jet process modeling and validation experiments

In this section, we deploy our CFD-DEM framework to simulate the IFPI occurring during the binder droplet deposition stage of the BJ3DP process. The first simulations attempt to reproduce experimental single-drop primitive granules extracted from four nickel alloy powder samples with varying particle size distributions. The experiments are conducted with a dedicated in-house test apparatus that allows for the precision deposition of individual binder microdroplets into a powder bed sample. The


This paper introduces a coupled CFD-DEM framework capable of fully-resolved simulation of the interfacial fluid–particle interaction occurring in the binder jet 3D printing process. The interfacial flow of binder and surrounding air is captured with the VOF method and surface tension effects are incorporated using the CSF technique augmented by height function curvature calculations. Block-structured AMR is employed to provide localized grid refinement around the evolving liquid–gas interface.

CRediT authorship contribution statement

Joshua J. Wagner: Conceptualization, Data curation, Formal analysis, Investigation, Methodology, Software, Visualization, Writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing. C. Fred Higgs III: Conceptualization, Funding acquisition, Investigation, Methodology, Project administration, Resources, Supervision, Writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing.

Declaration of competing interest

The authors declare that they have no known competing financial interests or personal relationships that could have appeared to influence the work reported in this paper.


This work was supported by a NASA Space Technology Research Fellowship, United States of America, Grant No. 80NSSC19K1171. Partial support was also provided through an AIAA Foundation Orville, USA and Wilbur Wright Graduate Award, USA . The authors would like to gratefully acknowledge Dr. Craig Smith of NASA Glenn Research Center for the valuable input he provided on this project.

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