Evonik Industries is the largest specialty chemical company in the world, and it has not been afraid to involve itself with 3D printing, working with HP on the development of high performance 3D printing materials. The company is also a long term supplier of polyamide powder for laser sintering. The PA 12 polyamide powders (PA2200) used by both EOS and 3D Systems both came from Evonik. Recently, the company developed a PEBA powder for laser sintering, high speed sintering and binder jetting. The flexible material will allow manufacturers to create soft structures like damping elements, tubes, hoses and sealants, according to Sylvia Monsheimer, Evonik’s Head of New 3D Technologies. Evonik is poised to deliver more high-performance materials, too – but first, Monsheimer said, 3D printing machinery needs to catch up in terms of production capability.
“For the technology to really take off, machine availability is crucial – and here I am talking about machines capable of production,” Monsheimer said. “Evonik is prepared to supply material after 3D printing takes off.”
You may think “but hasn’t 3D printing already taken off?” It has, but in terms of becoming a production technology rather than a prototyping one, it’s still working to get over the hump, although it has made progress. The materials are there, but it’s a matter of more quickly developing more machinery that can print with these materials. Monsheimer claims that this is the biggest obstacle to 3D printing at the moment.
“The target [for machinery] is changing from quick to reliable and economical,” she said. “The 3D printing process itself has to be incorporated in the production chain; it cannot be a standalone situation. All of the requirements for a safe and sustainable production chain have to be met.”
She does think, however, that 3D printing is in the process of making the shift toward becoming a true production technology, and Evonik is ready to become a major supplier for manufacturers once they can position themselves for production.
“Beyond fulfilling technical needs, it also make sense for us to offer scale-up skills, quality assurance, and reliability,” Monsheimer said. “The additive manufacturing business at Evonik belongs to one of the group’s four growth engines, as well as to one of six innovation growth fields within the specialty chemicals company. Evonik’s executive board is committed to developing our PA [polyamide] 12 activities further.”
Earlier this year, Evonik opened a new production line for specialty PA powders at its site at the Marl Chemical Park in Germany, increasing the company’s annual capacities for PA 12 powders by 50 percent. It also opened a research hub for resource efficiency topics in Singapore, expanding its research into topics such as additive manufacturing and functional surfaces. Evonik is certainly not taking a negative attitude toward 3D printing – if anything, the company is feeling highly positive about the technology, simply wanting to see it accelerate a bit faster. And it’s doing its part to help 3D printing to accelerate, continuing to work with customers to develop new materials that will open up advanced applications.
“Designers are about to explore structures that would not have been possible before,” said Monsheimer. “Material characteristics are not the only route to achieving the properties needed for an application – the macroscopic structure can get us there too.”
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