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Nov 03, 2016

3D Filaments for industrial applications

Roger Sijlbing

written by Roger Sijlbing

In my previous blog I discussed the most common 3D-printing filaments PLA, ABS and PET of the moment and their application. In this edition I would like to address the 3D-filaments for industrial application

3D-Filaments for industrial applications

In my previous blog, The different kinds of 3D-printing materials, I discussed the most common 3D-printing filaments PLA, ABS and PET of the moment and their application. In this edition I would like to address the 3D-filaments for industrial application which are becoming available for 3D-printing.

There is a trend evolving in the desktop 3D-printing industry and that is from “everyone is a maker to industrial 3D-printing”. Developing 3d-printing solutions for industrial application is gaining popularity fast. Stratasys, 3DSystems and EnvisionTEC use to dominate this segment but their (expensive) closed system policy pushes industrial companies to search for alternatives. Ultimaker, Lulzbot, MassPortal and other desktop 3D-printer manufacturers identified this trend and launched their version of open FDM industrial grade printers. Time will tell which approach will be more successful.

Personally I think there is an important aspect we need to take into consideration: when an industrial company invests in a milling or injection molding machine and the vendor says to them you can only use our materials, what do you think the industrial companies would say to that vendor? If you want to supply to the industry you have to understand their process and requirements.
Otherwise the output will not suit their application and 3D-printing will not have sustainable future as industrial tool?

A 3D-printer is the tool and it is all about the output. What type of material grades are we able to process for an application? Because industrial applications have certain requirements for their (end)products, specific grades are selected at the raw material supplier. In many cases compounders are used to enhance certain materials properties to create the right composition. Material selection is a science.

Although the output of a 3D-printer appears similar to traditional techniques it is not completely the same due to difference in processing. But I am convinced that 3D-printing will find its place as an industrial application.
The biggest challenge for our industry is developing industrial material grades for 3D-printing.

In my fist week at Innofil3D I asked one of our scientist “why don’t we just lower the operating temperature of the high end materials and they will be applicable on an Ultimaker”.
He looked very serious at me and shook his head. “Please sit down and I’ll explain something to you. There is a reason why industrial materials as Polycarbonate and PEEK have such high operating temperatures. Lowering the temperature has an impact on the applicability”.

This was an important lesson. Instead of making material applicable for a 3D-printer. Printers should be able to process 3D-filaments for industrial applications. As an industry 3D-printer manufacturers and 3D-filament manufacturers have to work together to develop industrial 3D-printing solutions. We have to find collaborations which enables our industry to get to the next level.

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But what type of materials are classified as industrial? There are a lot. Below you’ll find a small selection of high performance materials and applications that they are used in:

  • PolyPropylene (PP): is processed in packaging and ropes
  • PolyOxyMethylene (POM): is processed in the automotive and machine building industry
  • PolyEtherImide (PEI): is processed in medical and chemical instruments
  • PolyAmid (PA) aka Nylon: is processed in textile and in machines
  • PolyEtherEtherKeton (PEEK): is processed in the medical, aerospace, aviation and chemical industry
  • PolyCarbonate (PC):is processed in CD’s and DVD’s, in the construction industry and light industry

Note: there are more applications per material. This is just to give an idea.

 In the current 3D-printing landscape PEEK, Nylon and PC are quite popular materials. I would like to explore the opportunities for 3D-printing with these materials.

In my following post I will discuss those three materials – PEEK, Nylon and PC ;

  • what is it?
  • the properties
  • but also the Pros and Cons

Read the next post; Industrial Materials; PEEK – Nylon – PC

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