We sat down with our UK Applications Engineer, Carl Leonard, to get his thoughts on current trends in 3D printing materials and what sort of material properties, characteristics and requirements he predicts will be important in the future.
What is your perspective on new plastics and composite materials that are emerging for use in 3D Printing and additive manufacturing?
It’s clear we have entered a new stage in materials development especially Photopolymers. Synthesis of new materials with desired properties, new reinforcement capabilities, and reusable raw materials need to be explored further. Technological improvement and investigations in polymers as 3D printing materials is a fast-evolving field. We see a shift towards the use of exotic additives within the composition like Carbon Nanotubes, Graphene and Ceramics to name a few but we also see major advances in photo initiators and light blockers allowing UV cured resins to be used in medical sectors.
Is there a growing demand for feedstock materials with more characteristics and properties that have greater hardness? abrasion resistance? greater thermal properties?
Absolutely, having worked with many large OEMs over the last few years has afforded me sight of the design criteria for functional end use parts. Resin polymer technology struggles to reach these requirements due to low HDT, low strength and poor ageing qualities however recent innovations are showing great promise in this area especially with the addition of fiber reinforcements, particle reinforcements, and nanoparticle reinforcements. Additionally the market requires additive manufactured parts to exhibit properties of materials currently used via traditional methods like PEEK, PMMA, ABS, HDPE, PC and PVC to name a few.
What should plastics engineers know about materials that are, or potentially will be in demand by 3D printer users and customers?
In terms of demand, it’s clear that more durability is required, better weatherability, improved heat deflection, better ductility i.e the capacity to undergo a change of physical form without breaking and options for thermal and electrical conductivity. BMF recently launched 2 new ceramic materials, AL (alumina) ceramic and MT (magnesium titanate) ceramic. Our AL ceramic is biocompatible and chemical resistant perfect for high temperature, high strength and high stiffness applications such as tooling (injection molding), casing and housings and medical devices. MT ceramic is suitable for millimeter wave applications such as antennas, wave guides and other electronic components with its combination of high dielectric constant and low dielectric loss.
Do you believe that materials engineering and better material properties can actually factor into a manufacturer’s supply chain for critical spares? And self-sufficiency to produce replacement parts?
Printing on demand has long been the utopia for critical spares and replacement parts, it reduces the inventory and real estate required to store those parts and can reduce downtime waiting for parts not held on stock. We believe we are entering a new era of material development aligned with the latest machine developments which had previously stalled is showing exciting results. Here at BMF we are already seeing marked improvements in the materials offered to us as well as our own photopolymer developments when combined with our superior resolution and ability to print layers down to 5um produces parts which exhibit injection molded quality previously unrealized.