SPECTRAL: RESCOLL involved in a European Project on 3D printing of high performance thermoplasticsRescoll’Blog / 30 janvier 2017
The technology known as Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) is one of the oldest known methods for 3D printing of objects. Printers based on FFF technology commonly have prices far less than comparable designs using photo polymerization or sintering technologies. However, to date, FFF has been largely limited to polymers with fairly low melting points: less than 280°C. This has limited its success from an industrial standpoint, where high-performance polymers such as ULTEM (poly etherimide) and PEEK are needed in order to provide thermal and mechanical performance in extremely demanding scenarios. In the aerospace market, PEEK has become the reference high-performance engineering thermoplastic.
As a result, FFF has not seen a great deal of success in aerospace applications. Instead, sintering (either by laser or electron beam) has been the standard. Much of the current effort has focused on producing titanium and other metallic pieces by laser sintering. Electron beam melting remains the one method currently available and validated on the market for the production of PEEK 3D printed parts. PEEK is an attractive material due to its high thermal and mechanical performance, coupled with its low density (about one third that of titanium). It is therefore being widely investigated for replacing titanium and other metals in aerospace applications, in order to reduce overall weight.
In addition, the investment necessary for the equipment necessary for sintering remains significant: around 450 k€ for a titanium-capable laser sintering system, and 1 M€ for a PEEK-capable electron beam melting system. Although there has been progress in the industrial FFF domain for 3D printing PEEK, such machines are still in the beta stage, and are expected to cost a minimum of 285 k€.
PEEK-capable industrial-grade machines need not be astronomical, however, and there is a real need for such systems.
In this context, the Cleansky project: SPECTRAL (low-coSt Printing of high-pErformanCe Thermoplastics foR structurAl appLications) aims to provide an industrial-grade PEEK FFF printers at a price point ten times less than current industrial-grade FFF printers, along with a supply of high-quality PEEK filament tested and validated on the printer and in accordance with the Topic Manager’s performance specifications. In addition, a high-temperature compatible breakaway support matrix material custom-designed for PEEK usage will accompany the PEEK materials.
The consortium is composed of two partners:
3NTR (Italy) who is in charge of the printer manufacturing and
RESCOLL (France), who is in charge of the project management, the filament development and their validation.
3NTR is a well-known manufacturer of industrial-grade FFF printers, and has previously developed printers capable of high temperature extrusion with heated chambers.
RESCOLL has a great deal of experience in thermoplastic compounding and formulation, having developed PEEK composite materials for a wide variety of applications. RESCOLL therefore has the experience to efficiently develop the filaments in a timely manner, and already has experience in working with 3NTR and their printers. RESCOLL is a certified supplier of analytical and mechanical testing services to many members of the aerospace community.
Thus, the SPECTRAL project will develop, implement and test a FFF 3D printer dedicated to high performance materials and according to the specifications described by the Topic Manager (AIRBUS). The printer will be validated for the production of aeronautics’ pieces according to the technical specifications provided.
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