3D Printing: No more a niche technology

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3D printing or additive manufacturing (AM) is considered a transformative technology and part of the new world of advanced manufacturing. Based on an entirely new approach to industrial design, it can help businesses by improving their products, manufacturing operations and opening up entirely new business models.

According to the 2017 Wohlers report, 3D printing is growing at a rapid pace globally, with over 28% average annual growth for each of the last seven years, and generating a total of US$6 billion sales last year.

The sector has moved from a niche technology to an industry where unique products can be produced. For example, today over 90% of the plastic shells for in-the-ear hearing aids are manufactured using 3D printing (Wohlers Report 2017).

3D-printed products are often complex end-use parts such as air ducts, drones, lights, and parts for manufacturing equipment. These products can be enhanced with tailored high quality and ready-to-print materials that also withstand the wear and tear of prolonged usage.

Materials companies expand into 3D market

After two decades of establishing its Somos resins for stereolithography (SLA) and Digital Light Processing (DLP), Dutch materials firm DSM is now forming an integrated business, DSM Additive Manufacturing, and aligning all its related activities within the new unit. This, it says, will help customers find exactly the right materials and production systems for their applications.


Plus, beyond SLA and DLP, DSM says it will offer a growing portfolio of materials for Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF), including Novamid polyamide and Arnitel thermoplastic elastomer. It is also looking at developing new solutions for SLS, Multi Jet Fusion, Ink Jet and Binder Jet processes. DSM says it will initially focus on four market segments: healthcare, transportation, apparel, tooling and electronics.

Meanwhile, speciality chemicals firm Clariant has set up a dedicated 3D printing business, leveraging what it says are years of experience in tailoring polymers for a broad range of end market applications with pigments, additives and masterbatches, to provide 3D printer filaments and specially made solutions.


The Swiss firm says it will work closely with customers on polymer, additive and colourant selections to address typical end-use conditions such as weathering (sunlight, UV exposure), flame retardancy and electrical properties. The 3D printing materials are manufactured by Clariant and are available in flexible lot sizes.

More offerings from materials makers

To cater to large format additive manufacturing, materials company Sabic has introduced eight new Thermocomp compounds, based on four of its amorphous resins, for use in large-format pellet-fed extruders. Based on ABS, PPE, PC and PEI resins, the compounds are also reinforced with carbon or glass fibres for added strength and for applications in the tooling, aerospace, automotive and defence industries.


Sabic says it is also evaluating new large format processes and compounds containing semi-crystalline resins such as PBT, PA, PPS and PEEK.

At the Formnext show in Frankfurt, Germany, last year, Sabic showcased a section of a yacht hull from Livrea Yacht that was printed on the company’s BAAM machine in its Additive Manufacturing centre in Pittsfield, US. The hull is a result of a collaborative design effort between Sabic, Livrea Yacht and 3D design and engineering software provider Autodesk. Sabic applies the latter’s Fusion 360 design software on the BAAM equipment.

The 3D printed hull is said to be lighter and stronger, and can be manufactured at a fraction of the cost and in half the time, giving Livrea Yacht a competitive breakthrough that would not be possible with traditional fabrication.

Meanwhile, Sabic also launched a new Lexan EXL AMHI240F filament based on its PC copolymer technology. The company says it is designed for use on Stratasys’s Fortus Classic industrial printers, for EXL-AMHI240F aerospace, consumer electronics and automotive applications. The filament features toughness, as well as improved ductility at room temperature and at temperatures down to -30°C; and a heat deflection temperature of 140°C, which is higher than that of general-purpose ABS filaments. This makes it an alternative candidate for use in applications that operate at elevated temperatures.

This year, the company says it plans to launch several more differentiated products, including filaments based on Ultem polyetherimide (PEI) and Extem thermoplastic polyimide (TPI) resins. The new filaments are designed for applications that require higher temperature performance.

Elsewhere, Swedish firm Perstorp and 3D4Makers have developed a new generation 3D filament with improved strength, throughput, and mechanical qualities for a wide range of medical and manufacturing products. As the world’s first fifthgeneration 3D filament, Facilan enables applications previously unobtainable with other 3D printing materials, according to Perstorp.


The companies say the new Facilan is to fill the gap of existing filaments that are not suitable for manufacturing, with users having reported many issues with the printability and mechanical qualities of printed parts. Problems include layer adhesion, warping, surface quality and misprints.

Facilan is also said to be the world’s first soft touch 3D printing material, exhibiting better layer adhesion and boasting the “best” surface quality in 3D printing materials. The portfolio consists of Facilan C8, Facilan HT and Facilan Ortho.

Stronger than ABS yet easier to process than PLA, Facilan C8’s surface quality and low warping give it the “best look and feel of any 3D printing material”, claim the companies.

Machine makers improve process

German machinery maker Arburg, which was one of the first to launch a machine for additive manufacturing/3D printing, had its Freeformer on display at the Formnext trade fair last year in Frankfurt.

A new feature at the stand was the additive processing of standard PP from Brazilian materials supplier Braskem’s CP 393 grade and the specially developed support material Armat 12 to produce functional cable clips. The delicate yet durable structures featured the click effect typical of injection moulded parts, says Arburg.


The Lossburg-headquartered injection moulding machine company says it has thus expanded its material range for industrial additive manufacturing with a semi-crystalline material. The range also includes amorphous standard granulates such as ABS, PA and PC, as well as elastic TPE, the hightemperature plastic PEI, medical grade PLA and PC approved for the aviation industry.

Arburg adds that its Freeformer and Arburg Plastic Freeforming appealed to many new customers and interested parties visiting the show.

German machinery maker Dr. Boy GmbH says that over the past two years, 3D-printed plastic mould inserts have revolutionised mould manufacturing in the industry. These more flexible and cost-efficient solutions accord an alternative to complex construction of expensive steel moulds, especially for prototyping and individualising of components.

Since the physical properties of a component differ significantly if produced on a 3D-printer and injection moulding, a solution is 3D-printed mould inserts where the plastic parts can be manufactured costeffectively in a cassette mould.

Based on the CAD data of the plastic part, the print data of the mould inserts can be processed accordingly and 3D-printers create the mould. Depending on the size of the components, this can be done within minutes, while longer processing times are required for larger designs. Nevertheless, these mould inserts are designed much faster and more cost-effectively than their “steel competitors”.

Low mould costs, thanks to 3D-printed mould inserts as well as the fast implementation of modifications, are decisive advantages for users.

However, Dr Boy says high temperatures of the materials and large injection pressures can affect the mould inserts more significantly, especially in the case of small batches and average quantities. A solution is offered in the form of 3D-printed metal mould inserts. Higher stability and the possibility of a partly required mould temperature control/cooling are provided with these metal mould inserts and thus they represent the next upgrade level of the additive production.

As well, the layer-by-layer printing of the plastic or metal-mould inserts is clearly different in terms of preparation and planning.

In the case of the metal mould inserts, a large number of additional elements have to be taken into consideration in advance. For complex and highly 3D-dimensional parts, temperature control channels and their connections must be provided during the planning stage of the mould inserts.

In the case of the metal-printed moulds, the parting line has to be processed, since the structure of the surface of the moulding part comes from the printing process. For the achievement of a defined and desired surface, this additional processing step is necessary, adds Dr Boy.


Dr Boy also says that during the design phase of the moulds or of the metal mould inserts, a decision should be made as to whether a metal mould insert or a conventional aluminium or steel mould be used. “The engineer should be familiar with the capabilities of 3D-technology to find a good and affordable mould in light of the additional possibilities,” it adds.

The company is confident that the use of 3D-printed mould inserts will grow in the future, due to the lower cost, compared to conventional steel moulds.


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