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Watch: 3D Printing Materials Trends & Challenges

SpecialChem – Apr 14, 2016

3D printing / additive manufacturing technologies are expected to deeply change all market sectors... Yet, the number of industrial applications is still limited. We've interviewed François MINEC, the CEO of Advanc3D Materials and he agreed to tell us more:








 

What is your View on the Additive Manufacturing Industry?

François MINEC, CEO of Advanc3D Materials   

Additive manufacturing englobes many different technologies all with cute names like SLM, SLS, DLP, SLA, FDM… 

I tend to classify them in 3 big families:

  • Metal additive manufacturing which is already reality in the industry. It is used for example in the aeronautical industry. This process uses metal alloys powders.

  • Technologies using liquid resins (DLP, SLA) which are UV curable. This technology is mainly used to make prototypes. It allows to have parts with very nice precision.

  • Thermoplastics 3D printing technologies: FDM and SLS. These are the technologies on which Advanc3D Materials focuses.

 

Depending of the estimates, today WW market of raw material for the 3D printing industry ranges from 250MUSD to 1bUSD. I estimate it to be somewhere in the middle, around 500MUSD, growing 30%/y or above.

 

 

3D Printing Technology: Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)



FDM is the one everybody has seen at least once. It consists in a heated die, in which a plastic filament is melted and pumped.

These printers are used by private persons, fablabs, small engineer buro, architect studios and prototyping companies. The market of FDM for industrial applications (manufacturing) is mostly in the hand of one closed system printer manufacturer.

These printers prices range from below 600€ for the simplest printers able to print only PLA to 5000€ for higher end professional printers, or multi head printers. For example, the new BCN3D Sigma 2 heads printer for professional use is sold for around 2000€.  

The closed system industrial printers however cost several tens of thousands of euros.

 

  

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)



SLS is the 3D printing process using plastic powder as a raw material. This is the printer used for more industrial uses. The part is built layer by layer, by applying a 60 to 100 microns layer of fine powder inside a kind of oven at a temperature between 120°C and 150°C, and having a laser which selectively melts (sinterises) the powder. At the end you have a part which you can extract from the non-sintered powder. Depending of the type of powder used you can then re-use the powder mixing it with fresh powder.



3D Printing Technology: Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)



What Are the Main Types of Thermoplastic Used in Additive Manufacturing?


Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)


In FDM technology, the main material used is PLA, not because it is bio-based, but because it is very suitable for this technology. It can be used on the simplest 3D printers. PLA represents over 80% of the market for these simplest B2C printers. 

For all other materials more sophisticated printers are needed. The product which was first used with FDM is ABS. It needs a printer with heating plate to ensure good adhesion on the first layer and avoid warping. Many other materials are available (TPU, PA, PC, PETG…) but the volumes are very low.

These are offered to an end-customer at prices of around 20-40€/kg. It can seem expensive compared to raw material costs, but keep in mind these are sold per unit, with high handling, distribution and packaging costs.

Closed system printers offer a wider range of raw materials, including high temperature thermoplastics like PEEK, PEI... Filaments for these systems are proposed at prices above 100€/kg sometimes up to 500€/kg or above for high temperature filaments. These high prices are slowing down a widespread use of the technology in the industry.

 

 

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)


  • SLS technology was developed around PA12. This was the material used at the beginning of this technology and 20 years later it is still representing over 90% of the market for SLS. PA12 is offered as a neat powder (40-50 micron powder) but also as mixes with glass beads, carbon fibers, flame retardant additives, …
     
  • PA11 is also used for some applications where higher mechanical and thermal properties are required.

  • Flexible materials like TPE, TPU are starting to get more interest in the market too but are still very small niche applications.

  • Recently a PA66 was recently developed and a PP is available.

  • PEAK family polymers are also very suitable for this process, in particular PEKK is used for medical implants or aerospace applications.

One might ask why the possibilities are so limited. Actually it is due to the fact products used for SLS applications need a very well define thermal profile which few polymers have.

Prices range from typically 50€/kg to over 100€/kg for standard materials, and much more for PEAK.




What Trends Do You See?

 
B2C Market Trends for 3D Printing Technologies

In the FDM B2C market the main issue is today regulation. There are hundreds of manufacturers proposing products with very little control. End customers are sometimes children who print toys with plastics not approved for this use. Other print food containers without food approval. We, at Advanc3D Materials® have taken all steps to ensure our products fulfil these regulations. All our AdWire Premium® use plastics which pass European food contact approval for plastics, and all our filaments conform to RoHS regulations. They are also ready to be approved as toys in case the regulations require it.

 

Additive Manufacturing Trends for B2B Applications

Concerning all B2B applications, we see for both FDM and SLS a huge trend for industrial customers to use open 3D printers: meaning using printers which allow them to choose freely the raw materials. As an example: just imagine you were the owner of a Arburg® injection molding machines and you would only be able to use Arburg® plastic granules ! As a car manufacturer you would have no choice and no possibility to specify your product ! The plastic industry would have not developed the way it has if this closed system would have prevailed. This is however the situation in this industry after 20 years of existence, and according to me a reason why it has remained such a niche industry over these years.

 

Many new entrants for both FDM and SLS printers are introducing open printers which are able to use any material. They allow the customer to choose the material or an end-customer the possibility to specify it. This trend will accelerate the use of 3D printing.

 

For this reason, at Advanc3D Materials®, apart from a very comprehensive range of products, we offer processors and end customer some customization and taylor-made product development both using existing chemistries and new chemistries. 


This trend also leads to the next one: with the opening of the market, customers can start using products they specify and at prices which are getting more reasonable. It will allow for more industrial series. At Advanc3D Materials we strongly believe that SLS and FDM will be used for bigger production series and we are developing and supporting our customers to go this direction.




What Will Be the Greatest Challenges?


Development of SLS Raw Materials

The biggest challenge will be the development of SLS raw materials. Due to the specificity of this process, developing materials for SLS is a real challenge.  At Advanc3D Materials we are investing most of our R&D efforts in these developments. Customers are looking for higher temperature resistance materials, but made on standard SLS machines as high temperature SLS printers are rightfully much more expensive.

Bringing Costs Down

Bringing costs down will also be a very important challenge. The manufacturing of these products with specific properties as a controlled particle size, free flow, and defined thermal profile has a cost. This cost down can be done from the manufacturing side, but also by bringing on products which can be re-used for many more cycles avoiding throwing away expensive product, and finally finding a solution to re-use these used powders.

 

At Advanc3D Materials we currently have developments, and solutions for all these challenges: from high temperature, flexible, high refresh products and we propose to take back the used powders.




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