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Adrian Wilson

Editor's Viewpoint

23rd March 2018, Paris

3D printing comes of age

The announcement that Siemens is to build a new £27 million additive manufacturing plant in the UK confirms the rapid assimilation of this technology into mainstream manufacturing, including for the composites industry.

Having acquired Oxford Performance Materials (OPM) at the end of last year, Hexcel is one company that is excited about the potential of the technology.

Qualified

The company’s new HexAM-branded products based on AM-manufactured carbon-filled PEKK polymer have already been qualified for use on a number of programmes, including the Boeing CST-100 Starliner, and OPM’s acquisition by Hexcel is enabling more rapid operational scaling and development of the technology to meet growing market demand for carbon fibre-reinforced thermoplastic additive technology in the aerospace and defence industries.

Hexcel stand at JEC World, in Paris. © Inside Composites

“It’s a great addition to Hexcel,” said CEO Nick Stanage during the company’s press conference on the first day of JEC World in Paris. “In combination with our carbon fibre capability, PEKK can provide a range of new technology solutions to our aerospace and defence customers in printed parts as well as assembled structures and broader design solutions.”

“We are expecting HexAM parts based on the proprietary matrix of PEKK with carbon fillers to result in greater pick-up for thermoplastics, especially to replace machined aluminium and titanium parts,” added CTO manager Paul Mackenzie. “Due to the low cost, high precision parts it is making possible, 3D printing is definitely now coming of age.”

XStrand

Owens Corning, another composites leader, also announced the introduction of its XStrand range of new high-performance glass fibre filaments for 3D printing at JEC World, developed for both functional prototyping and industrial applications.

© Stratasys

These are currently available in two key engineering polymers, GF30-PP and GF30-PA6, and said to provide a strength and resilience above carbon fibre-filled ABS, neat PP and standard PA6.

 “Additive manufacturing is becoming a vital cost and time-saving tool,” said Arnaud Genis, president of Owens Corning Composites. “Samples we displayed in Paris included composite product applications for sporting goods – snow skis and ‘flying boat’ foils – in addition to medical prosthetics.”

The leader in additive manufacturing technology, Stratasys, is also making significant inroads with its FDM Nylon 12CF, a carbon-fibre reinforced thermoplastic for the production of high-performance prototypes that stand up to the rigorous testing required of production parts during the design verification process, meet the demanding needs of the production environment and allow the replacement of metal tooling for applications such as forming and end-of-arm tooling.

No moulds

At JEC World, Stratasys senior engineer, EMEA, Amos Breyfogle said additive manufacturing with Nylon 12CF was in principle just like injection moulding, but without the need for a mould.

FDM Nylon 12CF. © Stratasys

“It can produce really high performance parts as either single items or in the hundreds and it’s very competitive on price too,” he said. “If you look at parts manufacturing with metal you are buying a complete block only to machine a lot of it away, and all that waste mounts up.

“We are now seeing growth in aerospace and in automotive and we’ve seen a huge spike in interest from the mass transportation market where other advantages are in logistics. Additive manufacturing allows companies to get away from needing to have giant warehouses to just in time parts production.”

He added that the company’s work in partnering with Formula 1 leader McLaren had provided a clearer picture of what customers want in composites that will inform how it builds for companies in a lot of other industries.

One of key Stratasys composites customers include Ducati Motorbikes. © Inside Composites

“We have been working with McLaren on how to get even more out of the technology,” he said. “Mclaren has a race every week or two and the faster they can get work the more races they win. Working faster is what McLaren’s all about and in the end everybody wants things faster, as well as at lower cost.”

Other key Stratasys composites customers include Champion Motorsport Porsche, Ducati Motorbikes, Swift Engineering and Tecnun.

Positive impact

In explaining the company’s two separate additive manufacturing technologies, Fortus and Polyjet, Breyfogle said the former is based on a string of plastic with which any geometry can be constructed.

Stratasys senior engineer, EMEA, Amos Breyfogle. © Inside Composites

“In the last few years we’ve been looking at more industrial applications in controlled environments with the Fortus system,” he said. “The Polyjet principle is different and more like printing on a piece of paper using bright light to cure the 16-microns thick layers as they are being bult up. With Polyjet, we can control where properties go within the structure for increasing complex parts, such as adding areas of reinforcement exactly where they’re needed. In addition to thermoplastic composites, another growing area is in healthcare for both instruments and proesthetics, where the technology has the potential to make a huge and positive impact.”

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