There is an interesting, and to some extent unexpected, focus on additive manufacturing at NPE2015, a show dominated by the big iron of injection molding, extrusion, and other plastics processing technologies.
At an opening morning press conference, SABIC announced a global application development focus to advance additive manufacturing (AM) technology. It seemed a little odd because SABIC has not really had any skin in the AM game. The company’s LNP Thermocomp carbon fiber reinforced compound was used in the world’s first 3D printed vehicle, Local Mot
ors Strati, which garnered a lot of attention at IMTS last year in Chicago. But that was strictly a demonstration car. And it is a very specialized compound.
But SABIC clearly sees a big potential for additive manufacturing for its product line. At least for that part of the AM universe that is extrusion-based (and can use conventional plastics). SABIC has bought several pieces of equipment to advance optimization of its materials for those technologies. One is the Big Area Additive Manufacturing Printer that was used to print the car. Another area of focus is the Stratasys Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) technology, which can use regular plastics.
In a recent research project, SABIC used predictive engineering and 3D printing to create an integrated thermoplastic LED luminaire. Compared to a conventionally produced metal luminaire, the part count was reduced by 84 percent, and weight was reduced by 24 percent. Assembly time was cut by 65 percent, according to an announcement made by SABIC at the show.
SABIC materials available for 3D printing include:
- Ultem polyetherimide (PEI) 9085, which is typically used in aircraft applications. On display at the SABIC booth is a 3D printed economy class aircraft seat.
- LNP Thermocomp; and
- Cycolac MG94 resin, which is already used by the “maker” community for fused filament fabrication (FFF) printing.
Another potential technology that could be of importance to SABIC is the Arburg Plastics Freeeforming process, which was officially introduced to the U.S. market this morning at NPE. It’s a unique extrusion-based process that is designed as a complement to injection molding—a very different approach than that taken by all of the other AM processes on the market. AM began as an expensive prototyping process of limited utility because of the expensive proprietary materials used that could not mimic the functionality of molded parts. More recently, cheap, simple 3D printers were developed that use standard resins. The technology has been embraced by hobbyists.
ABS is one of the materials that Arburg has qualified for use in the Freeformer, Heinz Gaub, Arburg’s technology chief, said in a separate morning press conference. Other materials ready to go are polycarbonate (another SABIC staple), polyamide 12, thermoplastic elastomer (TPE), and a specialty support material developed jointly with BASF. Under development are polyamide 6, PBT-type polyester, polyether imide and polyetheretherketone (PEEK).
The stumbling block for the Freeformer may be its price, which will be in the range of its injection molding machinery. The speed of the Freeformer is described as “very comparable” to other AM processes, such as stereolithography. That’s not necessarily good news, particularly for a process that eyes serial production. The build envelope is 9.0 X 5.1 X 9.8 inches.
At the Milacron booth, a Stratasys Connex2 3D printed mold inserts from digital ABS. The inserts are then placed in a DME MUD frame to injection mold gear wheels in a Roboshot 15 (17 US tons). Turnaround time is one day. Production in the 100 to 300 range is possible, allowing functional testing of the actual production material with injection molded mechanical properties. The target industry is packaging.
Meanwhile, one of the new exhibit areas at the show is a 3D pavilion that includes a demonstration by Stratasys of its new Objet500 Connex1 multi-material 3D printer, which can produce parts from three materials in a single production run. There are 18 exhibitors in the pavilion, including 3M Advanced Materials. There are also several presentations of additive manufacturing planned, including several at Annual Technical Conference of the Society of Plastics Engineering (ANTEC) which is being held concurrently with the NPE.