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Swiss EMS Group Picks 3D Systems for New Nylon 3D Printing Material

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3D Systems (NYSE:DDD) has announced a partnership with EMS-GRILTECH (SIX:EMSN) to develop new 3D printing materials. Leveraging the polyamide manufacturing expertise of EMG-GRILTECH, a business unit of Swiss chemical company EMS Group, the duo have released a new nylon copolymer dubbed DuraForm PAx Natural for use in selective laser sintering (SLS).

3D Systems is the exclusive distributor of the powder, which can be used on any SLS machine. DuraForm PAx Natural is meant to demonstrate properties similar to injection molding, with high impact resistance and elongation at break in any direction. Because it can be printed at a low temperature of 120°C, it is described as more efficient for printing and post-processing. In turn, it enables high throughput and can be shipped the day after printing, compared to PA12, which may require two days.

DuraForm PAx unlocks the necessary accuracy, part flexibility, and unrestricted design freedom the custom and semi-custom orthotics industry demands.

The partners claim that it remains stable in terms of mechanical properties and color for over five years indoors. Vapor smoothing additionally increases the elongation at yield over that of PA-11 and PA-12. Suggested applications include “orthotics, tooling handles, splints, and braces, ducting in rugged environments, living hinges, liquid reservoirs, and enclosures requiring high impact and high toughness.”

“We’re very excited to be able to collaborate with EMS-GRILTECH in a way that allows us to not only advance our innovation roadmap but also advance materials performance for the industry,” said Dr. Edwin Hortelano, senior vice president, materials engineering & development, 3D Systems. “With DuraForm PAx Natural, we’re not only bringing a superior product with leading mechanical properties, we’re also delivering a new material for use with any SLS printing technology, which we intend to expand to other powder-bed fusion platforms. This is our first step in opening 3D Systems’ materials portfolio to the entire industry which allows a broader pool of manufacturers to realize the benefits of this unmatched material. We look forward to introducing more PAx-based materials among others in the future.”

Simon Maier, head of sales and marketing at EMS-GRILTECH, said, “The EMS Group is an established worldwide leader in high-performance polymers for injection molding and powder-based applications. EMS-GRILTECH has observed the powder bed fusion (PBF) additive manufacturing industry with keen interest over the last years, realizing that the technology is limited by the performance of the available materials. Thus, together with 3D Systems, we decided to use our expertise to develop materials that exhibit excellent performance in PBF systems and at the same time show technical properties that match those of injection molding. EMS-GRILTECH is excited about the capabilities of DuraForm PAx Natural and we’re looking forward to creating added value for the additive manufacturing industry with further material novelties in the future.”

This industrial duct was produced on 3D Systems’ SLS 380 3D Printer using the new DuraForm PAx Natural material. The lower printing temperature of this material enables a 35% faster cycle time and shorter time between builds.

The quotes above suggest that 3D Systems may begin distributing the material for such powder bed fusion (PBF) processes such as HP’s Multi Jet Fusion and/or Stratasys’s Selective Absorption Fusion. Additionally, EMS-GRILTECH is intending to expand its footprint in the additive industry.

For its part, EMS Group is roughly $7.71-billion company in terms of revenues, with a staff of around 2,500 people. It is represented in 22 nations, with materials made at 26 production sites in 16 countries. It is owned primarily by the Swiss billionaire Blocher family, and patriarch Christoph Blocher sold his shares in the company to his children in order to join the Swiss Federal Council. There, he would become controversial for his right-wing stances on immigration, among other topics.

Previously, EMS Group primarily targeted the German market, followed by China and the U.S. Its partnership with 3D Systems suggests that it may be expanding its focus in North America. So far, it’s already found a customer in Illinois-based 3D printing service CIDEAS, Inc., known for its work in the motorsports sector. CIDEAS president Mike Littrell had this to say about the material:

“DuraForm PAx Natural fundamentally disrupts the SLS technology cost structure as well as enables us to profitably produce parts that were previously difficult to justify using a powder material. This innovative material offers polypropylene-like mechanical properties, has high elongation, high impact, and offers a high recycle rate. We have a customer that frequently orders large, one-off unique parts that were not ideally suited for a powder process. DuraForm PAx Natural is the perfect material to use for this type of application and build size while being capable of producing a beautifully finished product.”

It is well known that PBF is severely limited in terms of available materials. Now, players from Jabil to Braskem are hoping to expand the powder portfolio from a variety of nylons to include other options.

Images courtesy of 3D Systems.

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