Rescoll and 3NTR develop 'low-cost' FDM 3D printer for high-performance thermoplasticsRescoll'Blog / 4 décembre 2017
French technology services company SRC Rescoll has partnered with Italian industrial 3D printer manufacturer SME 3NTR to develop an affordable industrial 3D printer that can use high-performance plastics, such as PEEK and ULTEM. The project, named SPECTRAL (which stands for low cost principle of high-performance thermoplastic for structural applications), is a part of the European Commission-funded CleanSky program.
The idea for the project, which will be ongoing for the next two years, came from the reality that many affordable 3D printers on the market are geared towards photo-polymerized or sintered materials, which rule out certain high-performance polymers like PEEK and ULTEM (Polyetherimide).
Most makers will know the benefits of both these materials, as PEEK is an engineering-grade thermoplastic polymer with strong properties and durability, while ULTEM is a slightly cheaper but similarly strong amorphous thermoplastic. Notably, both materials can be used to make parts with exceptional thermal and mechanical properties that come close to those of certain metals, making them ideal for use in the aerospace, automotive, and medical fields.
In recent years, companies and research organizations have been working on adapting the materials for FDM/FFF 3D printing, and with some success. German materials developer Indmatec, for instance, has succeeded in created 3D printable PEEK, though because of the material's high melting point (requiring a hot end that can reach 400°C), it cannot be used on just any desktop FDM 3D printer.
At the moment, most FDM/FFF 3D printing systems that can print with high-performance plastics are in beta stages, though it is the most promising 3D printing technology for low-cost PEEK or ULTEM 3D printing. As Jordan Bouvier from Rescoll explained, with the SPECTRAL project, they are aiming to develop a 3D printer that will cost less than €300,000. (Expensive, though a fraction of what industrial-grade titanium sintering or electronic beam fusion systems cost.)
As the companies explain, the SPECTRAL project will oversee the development, testing, and implementation of an FDM 3D printer dedicated to high-performance materials. As part of the CleanSky initiative, the 3D printer will be developed according to specifications put out by European aerospace company Airbus, which will also set the standards for parts produced on the 3D printer.
Italian company 3NTR is in charge of developing the 3D printer's hardware, while French company Rescoll is coordinating the project and is responsible for developing and manufacturing the 3D printable high-performance thermoplastic filaments for the printer. Rescoll is reportedly also developing a database that will enable the automatic recording and tracking of 3D prints.
"We have extensive experience in the formulation and characterization of high temperature thermoplastic materials and in the transformation of these mixtures into 1.75 mm and 2.85 mm diameter filaments for 3D printing," commented Jordan Bouvier. "Thanks to our machinery, including a 3NTR printer, we will be able to test, optimize, and validate the printing of the filaments, as well as to characterize the mechanical properties of the printed materials."