Victrex is leading a consortium of companies and institutions pursuing innovation in 3D printing (additive manufacturing or AM). As part of its key role, Victrex will develop new grades of high-performance polyaryletherketone (PAEK) polymer based on innovative chemical formulations that are specifically designed to work in additive manufacturing processes. Although utilized in some AM applications today, current PAEK materials were originally developed for use in injection molding or extrusion manufacturing process.
The new grades are targeted in particular at the aerospace industry, which is the consortium’s main focus, but will also consider applications in other areas, notably medical. Possessing intellectual property covering the new polymers being developed, Victrex was awarded funding from the UK's agency for innovation, Innovate UK, to help drive the project forward. Members of the consortium are other industry leaders such as Airbus Group Innovations, EOS e-Manufacturing Solutions, University of Exeter, E3D-Online, HiETA Technologies, South West Metal Finishing, and Avon Valley Precision Engineering.
A key objective is the improvement of the recycle rate for powders used in the additive manufacturing technique, laser sintering. This would significantly reduce polymer wastage in this type of additive manufacturing process and reduce costs. The project will also address unpredictability of inter-layer adhesion and parts surface finish in filament-based printing. "Everyone is now keenly aware that additive manufacturing has the potential to revolutionize industrial production, since it no longer involves the high tooling and set-up costs of traditional manufacturing," noted David Hummel, Chief Executive of Victrex. "It also allows the production of very complex shapes and geometries that cannot be made by conventional means. High value, lower-volume applications such as aircraft components are the type of application that could benefit the most, although there are other areas, including medical that may also benefit."
The project now being undertaken by the consortium was originally conceived during a conference on polymer-based additive manufacturing at the University of Exeter in 2014, where Victrex presented some early-stage results on a new polymer with significant potential for additive manufacturing. The University of Exeter had already acquired experience and contacts in PEEK polymer-based additive manufacturing and was able to help bring the consortium into existence. In fact, Victrex´s PAEK polymer is already being utilized for 3D printed parts in both filament fusion and powder-based laser sintering, while the company actively pursues new solutions. Within the industry, the consortium is looking at the innovative use of new PAEK polymer grades for potentially revolutionary aerospace-focused AM techniques.
"This innovative project is a great example of Victrex once again leading the way and demonstrating how we are seeking to further develop the opportunities for our polymers,” commented Hummel, “expanding the market for PAEK applications and differentiating our business. We are at the start of an exciting journey in the formulation of new grades that can efficiently and cost-effectively exploit all the advantages of additive manufacturing.”
By 2018, the project hopes to have technology demonstrators that represent proof points and a way forward to realizing all the advantages of additive manufacturing – including reduced costs and a faster time-to-market for products that include parts too complex to be manufactured using traditional methods. "Although this consortium is a multi-year program, companies who see a value for the benefits of PEEK polymer combined with the value propositions for additive manufacturing should contact us now to discuss their ideas", emphasized Hummel.