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AMS Spring 2023

3D Printing Super Materials & Flexible Materials with Roboze & Markforged at IMTS 2022

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IMTS 2022 wrapped up last week in Chicago, and there was a lot to see on the show floor, which was comprised of nine separate pavilions—including one entirely focused on additive manufacturing—across four halls in McCormick Place. While at the trade show, I made a lot of quick stops at booths to try and get in as many visits as I could before heading home.

Roboze Invests in R&D for Super Materials

One of the booths I visited was that of Italian 3D printer manufacturer Roboze, which just broke ground on a new research center for developing super materials. The 2,000 square meter R&D facility will be an addition to the company’s corporate headquarters in Bari; U.S. headquarters for the OEM are in Houston, Texas.

As Francesco Pantaleone, VP of Business Development for Roboze, told me, this new center is a major investment in its own R&D capabilities.

Image courtesy of Roboze

“Our focus is on high performance polymers for FDM printers…we specialize in materials like PEEK, carbon PEEK, and new formulations that really can be used in mission-critical components, enabling localized manufacturing close to the point of use for these components, which is ultimately what we do through our 3D Parts Network,” he told me.

He explained that the company’s global distributed manufacturing network has about 35 manufacturing partners from all over the world, from South America and Europe to the U.S. and Africa. I said it sounded like Roboze was pretty set, and Pantaleone told me that the company is “getting there.”

“We feel like the true value of having critical components readily available to be printed onsite is absolutely empowering the utilization of additive manufacturing, really removing all the barriers.”

At IMTS, Roboze was also showcasing its new Plus PRO 3D printer, a high-performance system that was just introduced this summer. Thanks to the company’s Beltless System—a patented movement system with gears—the high temperature Plus PRO can achieve repeatability over time, and 3D printing precision of 15 microns. The printer features a 300 x 250 x 220 mm print bed, and is compatible with a wide variety of engineering materials, including ULTRA-PLA, PEEK and PEKK, ToolingX CF, STRONG-ABS, carbon PEEK, Flex-TPU, and more.

Markforged Introduces Smooth TPU 95A Material

Speaking of TPU, when I stopped by the Markforged booth at IMTS I was excited to see the company’s newest material for myself: the signature Smooth TPU 95A. The rubber-like material can be used to print high-quality, flexible, impact-resistant parts, such as drive belts, gaskets, seals, and more.

Daniel Leong, Product Marketing Manager, told me that Markforged has been looking into TPU, or thermoplastic polyurethane, for “a really long time.” The first reason is just the fact that “elastomeric materials are really interesting,” as they can be used to make really cool flexible parts.

“Second is that none of our materials really are engineering-grade and non marring,” Leong explained, noting the difference between TPU and some of Markforged’s other offerings. “We have PLA, which is non marring, we have Onyx, which is engineering-grade, but Onyx is non marring relative to metal. It has a little bit of carbon fiber, so if you actually handle unfinished goods, it can be a little bit tricky to actually use. TPU is amazing, because TPU is totally non marring, but also an engineering-grade plastic.”

He showed me a non marring metal gripper with 3D printed TPU tips as an example. The material is a 95A hardness, so it’s a little bit harder than others commonly used in the market, but he said that this makes it “more fit for engineering-grade applications.”

Smooth TPU 95A material is available in both black and white, and can currently be used with the Mark Two (Gen 2) and Onyx Pro (Gen 2) desktop 3D printers, with plans to make it available on the company’s industrial printers in a couple of months.

 

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Moving on, Leong said the company is continuing to “prioritize and commercialize” its FX20 continuous carbon fiber printer, which was first announced in the summer of 2021.

“We’ve been shipping them since March, and we’ve seen really positive feedback from people,” he told me. “More people are using it, and we’re just continuing to optimize its performance and bringing more of our materials to the platform and get more customers for it.”

The other important thing Markforged has been working on is an updated version of its most popular metal material, 17-4 PH Stainless Steel. Leong explained that it’s the same metal, but with a redesigned binding structure that makes it more user-friendly.

“So the material is now more flexible, it’s easier to handle, the spools are twice as large, it’s a little bit easier to load and handle, and our customers are giving us really positive feedback so far.”

Leong went on to say that a lot of people are excited about metal 3D printing, and that Markforged sees the gap as more about deciding if the technology is right for them.

“Is it usable, is it something that people want to use, is it something I can see myself using in an application? So most of our work in that area is focused on how can we enable our customers to make more variety of parts, and how can we make their usage experience better?”

Stay tuned for more news from IMTS!

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