Talking 3D Printing of Plastics at the Additive Manufacturing Conference
A look at the 2019 Additive Manufacturing Conference plus onsite interviews with AM providers Essentium and EOS.
It was my first time attending the 2019 Additive Manufacturing Conference (August 27-29) in Austin, TX, which is presented by our sister publication, Additive Manufacturing, and polymer AM was definitely a focus.
For instance, Bonnie Meyer, application engineer at Evolve Additive Solutions, discussed the company’s Selective Thermoplastic Electrophotographic Process (STEP), which combines an existing 2D printing technology with its own proprietary STEP platform. In May, Evonik and Evolve Additive Solutions announced a joint development agreement where the companies will work together to formulate Evonik’s thermoplastic materials to be used in Evolve's (STEP) technology. Meyer said that “system is built from the ground up for production parts and will be targeting mid to low volume parts.” Evolve’s STEP technology will sit alongside traditional manufacturing processes, such as injection molding on the manufacturing floor. The selective thermoplastic electrophotographic process from Evolve is still in the alpha development stage and is expected to be commercial in late-2020.
Be sure to check out this article from AM editors Peter Zelinksi and Stephanie Hendrixson where they break down key takeaways from the conference in their video recap.
And one of the biggest benefits of attending a conference is meeting with companies. In this case, I met with both Essentium and EOS to learn more about the company’s solutions and use of plastics in AM.
A Focus on Materials
Austin, Texas-based Essentium manufactures and delivers industrial 3D printers and materials. The company’s Essentium High Speed Extrusion (HSE) Platform is a 3D printing system that reportedly prints parts 10 times faster than conventional Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) printers by utilizing a non-slip, high torque extruder system and all linear motors.
Essentium High Speed Extrusion (HSE) 3D printer.
The company’s FlashFuse technology utilizes a plasma heat source to conduct electricity through a network of carbon nanotubes integrated into Essentium’s Ultrafuse materials. This reaction in turn welds each layer as it is deposited, thus creating a stronger bond that reportedly achieves the tensile strength of injection molded thermoplastics.
Applications include producing high-performance machine parts, tools and jigs and fixtures in aerospace, automotive and electronic manufacturing sectors.
Brandon Sweeney, co-founder and head of R&D of materials for Essentium, said the company is very much focused on materials. At the beginning of the year, Essentium raised $22.2 million in Series A funding led by BASF Venture Capital with participation from Materialise, Genesis Park and previous seed round investors. The two companies extended their strategic partnership to establish a consistent global materials supply chain supportive of Essentium’s HSE platform.
“The most important thing for our customers is the quality of materials that are coming out of the machine,” Sweeney said. “Yes, it does require a very sophisticated machine technology to produce high-quality parts—but the materials are our focus because that is the true deliverable.”
Sweeney says that the company has spent the past two years to develop the machine hardware for the HSE 3D printer that has the speed, the precision and the reliability to produce high quality parts at scale.
“So at this point, we're developing an entire ecosystem—the materials, machine and process—that come together, and also bring in software into it so that customers have a good experience when they work with our core portfolio of materials,” he said.
Polymers—Fast Growing Segment
German company EOS is a supplier in the field of industrial 3D printing of metals and polymers. This past April the company celebrated 30 years of being in business. EOS is largely known for their metal machines, but sees polymers as a fast growing segment. The company says that there is an ongoing race to tap into the underutilized market for AM in polymer serial production, and much of the new technology in the industry is focused on opportunities with polymer materials.
EOS LaserProFusion technology is capable of using up to one million lasers.
For instance, the company’s LaserProFusion technology is for polymer-based additive manufacturing. It enables tool free injection molding and can even be deployed to replace injection molding in many applications, making industrial 3D printing an attractive prospect for completely new applications. EOS' polymer technology is targeted for the production of series in small to medium batch sizes. EOS is continuously optimizing the interaction between powder materials and laser. The company continues to focus on using lasers as the preferred source of energy for the powder bed process.
Fabian Krauss, who is leading the EOS polymer business in North America, said to realize the full potential of polymer AM, technology platforms need to be engineered to be fine-tuned to meet the requirements of design, software, materials and processes around the application.
“We, as an organization, draw a lot of synergies from being able to offer both (polymer and metal) solutions for the customers,” Krauss said.
There have been challenges with limited polymer materials for 3D printing so Krauss said that EOS talks to customers about what are the functional requirements are and see if they can match their material requirements with a modified material or with a different material that is going to have similar or the same mechanical properties but it might be a different polymer.
“What we’re trying to convey and say is to look at it from the functional characteristics and requirements you need, and we will develop a solution for you,” he said.
3D printing expands possibilities for plastic parts, short-run molds and production mold tooling. Here are just 10 of the ways 3D printing is advancing:
Bringing rapid prototyping capabilities in-house is becoming a reality for many plastics manufacturers, thanks to more affordable, faster, and easy-to-use 3D printers.
Here’s just a taste of the innovations on display, a selection of the top headlines not covered in our September show preview.