It’s Material – AM Look at Specialty Materials


Aya Bentur  


The industrial capabilities of AM have already been proven. As the use of AM for industrial applications grows the industry can point out the specific needs material-wise leading to an increase in specialty materials. The development of specialty materials has moved beyond the territory of chemicals, chemicals companies are now an integral part of pushing the AM ecosystem further into industrial use. Looking at material development for AM you can see how it corresponds with the main trends of the ecosystem, here is a look at 4 trends in the AM ecosystem and how they manifest when it comes to specialty materials.

Group Effort

In order to grow as an ecosystem, AM advances must include the various aspects that make up industrial production. The need to form collaborations and partnerships encompassing different skill sets is an evident agent in AM – same goes for materials. Henkel, a chemicals company, is collaborating with Carbon which manufacturers and develops 3D printers, which in turn is working with Adidas on their 3D printed mid-soles. This cross section between material, machine and product is essential to further the adoption of AM in industrial applications. This is especially true in the case of materials as in many cases additive manufacturing transforms the raw material which means the final material characteristics are a result of both material and machine capabilities.

3D printed sample by Origin and BASF - Photo via Origin

This year was the first time Henkel exhibited at Formnext, again showing that chemical and specialty materials are not adjacent to the AM ecosystem but an integral part pushing it forward. Another example is GKN Powder Metallurgy and EOS, together the two companies aim to substantially reduce time and costs of laser-based additive manufacturing. BASF recently announced a number of new partnerships – one with Origin, an AM startup, with Photocentric which manufacturers photopolymers, and with Materialise and Essentium (above 3D printed sample by Origin and BASF – Photo via Origin).

Medically Speaking

In the medical sector as well, additive manufacturing uses partnerships to advance. Certifying an application or product is a slow process, reevaluating each product from zero can be limiting and time-consuming. This year we have seen the certification of medical applications but also hardware, software, and the materials used for medical purposes. Specific materials have gained FDA clearance, both Solvay and Sabic have certified medical grade filaments (below example of a customized application using the SABIC filament).  Earlier this year Materialise became the first company to receive FDA clearance for its software which converts medical info to 3D printable files. Under the Materialise program machines by Stratasys and Ultimaker have been certified as well. “It’s a pre-vetted system of software, hardware, and materials,” said Todd Pietila, Global Business Development Manager for Hospital 3D Printing at Materialise.



Another aspect pertaining to industrial use of AM is the understanding that 3D printing isn’t a one-stop-shop. Even though the additive process brings the part manufactured very close to its final stage, it usually requires some form of post-processing which combines other technologies and methods. One of those technologies is coating or plating. Mercedes Benz, for example, provides 3D printed replacements parts such as the inside mirror base of the 300 SL Coupé (198 model series). It is additively manufactured from an aluminum alloy and chrome plated – just like the original. If you think about it, many of the products we use today are plated or coated, as a post-processing step, it fits AM as well, both as an aesthetic solution and for enhancing material characteristics. Polymertal offers plating services and surface smoothing for 3D objects, plating materials such as PEEK with nickel-copper creates what the company defines as a hybrid material – lightweight on one hand yet with increased strength and conductivity due to the metal plating on the other.

High Performance Paves the Way

DSM - Car part - air pipe - 3D printed using Arnitel ID2060 HT

One form of specialty materials is high-performance materials. These materials enable interesting applications such as high-temperature applications suited for engine parts or biocompatibility for medical devices. Some machines must reach high-performance standards in speed, reliability, and consistency and to do so they require new materials that are designed to meet or even exceed the performance of materials used in traditional manufacturing. For example, DSM’s new thermoplastic copolyester Arnitel ID2060 HT is said to enable the AM production of structural parts which can be applied in the automotive industry (above 3D printed car air pipe using Arnitel ID2060 HT). Voxeljet launched two new specialty materials suited for High Speed Sintering, a Polypropylene (PP) and Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU), which are widely used in injection molding (below buckle manufactured with Voxeljet HSS). Lastly, Arkema recently introduced new UV curable resins, also engineered for industrial applications.

Functional Buckle Manufactured with Voxeljet HSS Technology

Increased performance is also obtained by creating composite materials such as DSM‘s new carbon fiber filamentCRP Technology‘s Windform – a patented high-performance composite material (below). Another example is Fortify’s materials and DCM (Digital Composite Manufacturing) that uses a magnetic 3D printing process to create optimized composites (up top). These are just a few of the many high-performance specialty materials introduced this year.

CRP Technology - Windform high-performance composite material for AM

There is so much going on in the AM ecosystem, this is just a sample of this year and we’re all curious to see what the next year will bring in specialty materials and their applications. Tell us about materials you’ve been working with, in the comments below or email us. For more insights and information follow us on LinkedIn or subscribe to our newsletter for weekly updates.

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