Airbus is commercializing a new additive manufacturing technology designed to permit greater use of high-performance engineering plastics such as polyphenylene sulfide (PPS), polyetheretherketone (PEEK), PBT-type polyester, various polyamides, polyetherketoneketone (PEKK), and PARA (polyarylamide), which is usually highly loaded with glass.
The process has been tested in a modified 3D Systems Sinterstation HiQ + HS.
“The process is currently in a TRL3 which means that we have enough data to confidently say that the process works, ensure the powders recyclability and achieve almost isotropic results,” says Thiago Medeiros Araujo, a consultant research engineer at Airbus Group Innovations and Founder at Freeform Printing Ltd., Bristol., U.K.
Materials’ development partners to date include Lehman & Voss, Arkema, Victrex and Toray. Other partners include LSS Sinter Service and German service bureau Rauch CNC.
Araujo said he could not provide specific details about the process. ”What I can say is that the hardware changes are the addition of a build plate to act as substrate and other changes to ensure a better heat distribution and more precise laser applications. In the software side the changes aim to allow the execution of an Airbus proprietary laser application.”
In currently available SLS approaches for high-heat plastics, parts and powder experience “massive aging effects” due to prolonged exposure to high temperatures. The Airbus process, called ThermoMELT takes place at lower temperatures.
Airbus is currently discussing licenses with potential users of the technology.