Metal Binder Jetting
Automotive Polymers

ESA and Zortrax 3D Print PEEK Composites for Built-in Electronics

Share this Article

Polish 3D printing solutions provider Zortrax has been working with the European Space Agency (ESA) for the last year to figure out how to use 3D printing to fabricate high-performance composite parts out of two different PEEK (polyetheretherketone) filament blends, and the two have finally reached a milestone in the project.

At the recent FabAddComp scientific conference in France, the ESA revealed during the keynote that the industrial Zortrax Endureal printer, which features dual extruders, is able to print models using two space-grade PEEK polymers, and so can support 3D printing components with built-in electronics and electrical circuits.

Zortrax PEEK composite model with ESA conductive PEEK

The Zortrax Endureal is a third generation industrial LPD Plus 3D printer, with a 400 x 300 x 300 mm build space, and featuring over 30 built-in sensors that work in real-time to guarantee uninterrupted operation in high-tech manufacturing and product development projects. Often used to fabricate components out of high-performance polymers like Z-PEI 9085 and PEEK-based materials already, the Endureal’s dual extrusion technology is typically used to print a model and its support structures out of two different materials. But, the aerospace sector is seeing a higher demand for 3D printed composite parts featuring two high-performance polymers, which is what the ESA and Zortrax have just done.

Zortrax 3D printed composite PEEK model with black conductive paths

NASA has used Zortrax systems in the past to make tools, so the company’s printers are clearly able to handle aerospace applications already. But now, the ESA has developed an experimental, electrically conductive PEEK material blend, which Zortrax used, together with pure PEEK, to create 3D printed proof of concept composite models, featuring simple electricity, on its Zotrax Endureal.

“Reducing weight is always one of the key design goals in aerospace engineering and it can be done by building parts which serve multiple purposes at once,” explained Michał Siemaszko, Head of Research and Development at Zortrax S.A. “In a standard airplane or spacecraft, you need to include both structural elements and wiring responsible for transferring energy or data between various systems. That is what we aim to solve with 3D printing PEEK components with electrically conductive paths. This way, the structural parts can at the same time perform electricity or data transfer functions without weight penalty incurred for additional wires. Imagine casting a solid steel slab that also works as a USB connector. That’s what the Endureal can do with high- performance polymers.”

Zortrax composite PEEK model with blue LED

Together with the ESA, Zortrax has successfully 3D printed what it’s calling “the world’s first data transfer device” entirely out of PEEK polymers.

“A data transfer of 9600 bit/s has been achieved between two computers connected with USB cables and USB-RS232 converters through a 3D printed model,” the company stated on its website. “We have also fabricated models with built-in electrically conductive paths.”

Zortrax composite PEEK model data transfer demonstration

The Zortrax Endureal system is divided into three separate thermally isolated zones: the print chamber, the filament compartment, and the extruder compartment.  It was an impressive printer already, with automated annealing and advanced filament sensors, but for the ESA project, the company’s engineering team worked to make it even better. In addition to updating the software and firmware, the industrial printer can now achieve better dimensional accuracy thanks to increased rigidity of the extrusion system, and additional tweaks to the hardware have enabled the Endureal to reach even higher operating temperatures; for instance, the maximum extrusion temperature is now 480°C. Users can now precisely define the temperature in the print chamber, which can now reach 200°C, and the PEI film-covered aluminum built platform can get up to 220°C, which helps decrease material shrinkage and warping.

“The technology we are developing opens up a clear path to use the Zortrax Endureal for 3D printing smart components with built-in electrical circuits, all while retaining excellent thermal and mechanical properties of high-performance polymers like PEEK,” stated Zortrax CEO Rafał Tomasiak. “This will make this printer a powerful tool in the hands of engineers and designers working for high end and demanding application like automotive, aerospace and space. We also expect groundbreaking solutions developed in projects like this one to quickly trickle down to our production level 3D printers.”

Zortrax Endureal

As a bonus for other customers, Zortrax has implemented all of the changes and improvements in the design of the Endureal to all commercially available systems, in order to ensure dual extrusion 3D printing of composite models with pure and conductive PEEK. What this also means is that the technology could eventually make it into space one day, expanding the possibilities of what can be manufactured aboard the ISS or even on potential bases on the Moon.

(Source/Images: Zortrax)

Share this Article

Recent News

3D Printing News Briefs, August 13, 2022: Natural Fibers, Robotic Gripper, & More

3D Printing News Unpeeled, Live with Joris Peels Friday 12th of August


3D Design

3D Printed Art

3D Printed Food

3D Printed Guns

You May Also Like

“We Have Limitless Opportunities to Fuel Growth” Says Randy Altschuler after Xometry’s Q2 Earnings

The last few years have been rough for the capital market. Between the Covid-related economic slowdown, inflation’s impact on stock returns, and an ongoing war in Ukraine, the stock market...

Metal 3D Printing Firm Velo3D Announces Impressive Q2 Earning

US financial markets appear to be in a state of limbo. For one thing, there are few clear opinions circulating concerning the question as to whether the American economy is,...

3D Printing News Unpeeled, Live with Joris Peels Thursday 11th of August

Today we’re going to discuss 3D printed sunglasses from Givenchy, 3D printing drone swarms, more sustainable 3D printing materials for buildings by ORNL, 3D printing earnings season and more.  

3D Printing News Unpeeled, Live with Joris Peels – Wednesday 10th of August

Today we’re going to discuss 3D printed razors, CERN and more in this live cast of the 3D Printing news.