Sintering occurs by diffusion of atoms through the microstructure. This diffusion is caused by a gradient of chemical potential – atoms move from an area of higher chemical potential to an area of lower chemical potential. The different paths the atoms take to get from one spot to another are the sintering mechanisms. The six common mechanisms are:
- Surface diffusion – Diffusion of atoms along the surface of a particle
- Vapor transport – Evaporation of atoms which condense on a different surface
- Lattice diffusion from surface – atoms from surface diffuse through lattice
- Lattice diffusion from grain boundary – atom from grain boundary diffuses through lattice
- Grain boundary diffusion – atoms diffuse along grain boundary
- Plastic deformation – dislocation motion causes flow of matter
Also one must distinguish between densifying and non-densifying mechanisms. 1–3 above are non-densifying – they take atoms from the surface and rearrange them onto another surface or part of the same surface. These mechanisms simply rearrange matter inside of porosity and do not cause pores to shrink. Mechanisms 4–6 are densifying mechanisms – atoms are moved from the bulk to the surface of pores thereby eliminating porosity and increasing the density of the sample.
Plastic materials are formed by sintering for applications that require materials of specific porosity. Sintered plastic porous components are used in filtration and to control fluid and gas flows. Sintered plastics are used in applications requiring caustic fluid separation processes such as the nibs in whiteboard markers, inhaler filters, and vents for caps and liners on packaging materials. Sintered ultra high molecular weight polyethylene materials are used as ski and snowboard base materials. The porous texture allows wax to be retained within the structure of the base material, thus providing a more durable wax coating.