As important as the abilities of the machines themselves, the materials needed for 3D printing are a critical consumable, and one which the machine manufacturers were keen to tie-up partnerships for with suppliers.
While when compared to mature manufacturing processes like Metal Injection Moulding (MIM) demand is comparably low for 3D printing, but what 2017 has shown is that both vendors and materials suppliers are jostling for placement before the boom comes.
Metals powders proved most noticeable, as the sector for SLS metals 3D printing truly grew in the maturity and size of machines available, although plastics suppliers have also noticeably stepped up.
Below is a list of some of the key announcements from Formnext 2017:
Specialists in grinding and finishing plastic powders, Dressler has signed up as a ‘preferred partner’ to HP’s 3D printing efforts, which seemingly above the rest of the materials manufacturers in HP’s much vaunted open source supplier stable.
Much of this must come down to Dressler’s latest innovation: Spherical Powder Technology (SPT), which reportedly enables degrees of fineness of less than 80y for PEEK plastics, something Dressler says had been impossible until now.
What’s more, the process can optionally be undertaken without additives, works at comparatively low temperatures, enables filled powders, and significantly improves free-flowing properties.
“It maximises the reliability and productivity of the printers because the SPT powder is extremely free-flowing thanks to a level of roundness that has not been achievable in this dimension until now,” said Jan Dressler, managing partner and CEO at the Dressler Group.
Prodways announced PA612-GB 3800, a new glass-filled PA6-12T material, reputedly the first of its kind for the SLS process, resulting from its partnership with US high-performance plastics supplier A. Schulman.
This is the first material to arrive from an exclusive strategic partnership with A. Schulman, and is billed as a replacement material for traditionally machined metal parts for designs such as casings, the top parts of motors or ballast systems.
PA612T is also characterised by its low sensitivity to moisture absorption, allowing it to maintain its mechanical properties in humid conditions, but which operates happily at SLS printer temperatures.
Targeting use in Stratasys’ Fortus 3D printers, and not a partnership per se, Sabic has launched a new Lexan EXL AMHI240F filament, based on a polycarbonate copolymer (PC) for high impact performance and low-temperature ductility.
Additionally, six new filaments based on Sabic’s ULTEM polyetherimide (PEI) resin, CYCOLAC acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS) resin and Lexan PC resin, and offer what the company says is the same composition as its injection molding grades.
The company also introduced a product family of 8 reinforced compounds, with carbon or glass fibers for added strength, the new compounds are based on four amorphous resins: ABS, polyphenylene ether (PPE), PC and PEI.
They exhibit good creep behavior, reduced deformation under constant pressure and lower shrinkage compared to crystalline resins.
“Sabic is creating a range of new materials for different additive manufacturing processes, and supporting customers with our extensive expertise and resources for testing, design and application development,” said Stephanie Gathman, director emerging applications, Sabic.
“Expansion of additive manufacturing depends on the availability of high-performance materials that can help optimise processing and promote application innovation.”
Finally, Sabic showcased polycarbonate materials for SLS, while announcing it is developing a technology to enable laser sintering of PC materials with good mechanical properties and part densities above 96 per cent.
These powders may provide an alternative to polyamide 12 (PA 12) and can be processed using commercially available printers.
DSM Additive Manufacturing
Previously known as a leader in third-party stereolithography (SLA) resins with its Somos brand, while remaining vendor neutral DSM has pivoted to build a stronger footing in the 3D printing market for mass production.
The new integrated business, DSM Additive Manufacturing, blends all its materials activities beyond SLA and DLP. DSM will offer FDM as well as selective laser sintering (SLS), HP’s Multi Jet Fusion, ink jet and binder jet processes.
DSM states that it’s focus is on four specific market segments in particular – although they have a wide remit: healthcare, transportation, apparel, and tools and electronics.
Expect new solutions from DSM’s extensive R&D labs, as well as equivalents of existing materials as the company looks to achieve the goal of ‘the broadest solutions portfolio’.
Having already announced materials partnerships with some industry heavyweights, BASF made a more lowkey announcement with growing brand BigRep – often considered a solid alternative to industrial class FDM machines from the big players.
BigRep and BASF are finalising negotiations surrounding a strategic alliance to jointly develop 3D printing solutions, namely around FDM technology.
Despite launching under four years ago, Berlin-based BigRep sees a future cooperation with chemical giant BASF as proof of its ‘continuing commitment to engineering and manufacturing cutting-edge filaments and printers’, and proves that all the tie-ups with the industry giants aren’t leaving behind the challenger brands.
In September this year, BASF underscored its commitment to exploring 3D printing potential, by announcing the creation of a dedicated subsidiary: BASF 3D Printing Solutions GmbH.
“Our goal is to offer the best additive manufacturing solutions to our customers with BigRep equipment and BASF industrial materials,” said BigRep CEO René Gurka, of the forthcoming partnership.
“Continuous innovation into new additive materials will help us support our customers to realise the full potential of additive manufacturing in their businesses.”
LPW Technology and Airbus subsidiary APWorks have announces a strategic partnership to strengthen its metal powder portfolio with the release of aluminium-magnesium-scandium Scalmalloy – specifically designed for 3D printing.
Its high strength, lightweight, low corrosion characteristics have already been showcased in a number of APWorks projects, with the LPW deal meaning assured distribution to safety-critical sectors like aerospace world-wide under strict quality management.
“Partnering strategically with an AM metal powder specialist such as LPW further strengthens the Scalmalloy supply chain, supporting APWorks vision to expand the industrial application of AM technologies and solutions across the sectors,” said Sven Lauxmann, APWorks chief sales and marketing officer.
“With LPW Technology we have found a reliable and strongly AM focused partner to create an excellent synergy between their significant expertise in the production and global marketing of materials and APWorks’ intensive experience in processing Scalmalloy in 3D printing.”