3D printing advances overshadowed by lack of machinery - Evonik

Source: ICIS News

2018/10/23

LONDON (ICIS)--The true take off for 3D printing is on the horizon but a lack of machinery capable of production is holding the technology back, according to Evonik’s head of new 3D technologies.

Sylvia Monsheimer said that, while the company is happy with the growth it has seen in the 3D printing industry in the last 20 years, there is a lack of machinery capable of production available on the market.

“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.”

Monsheimer added that this lack of availability is the biggest challenge facing the success of 3D printing, as the ground continues to shift beneath their feet.

“The target [for machinery] is changing from quick to reliable and economical. 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.”

Despite the worries about the availability and suitability of machinery, Evonik said it is seeing a major shift towards real production and it aims to be an established supplier for this new production technology.

“Beyond fulfilling technical needs, it also make sense for us to offer scale-up skills, quality assurance, and reliability,” added Monsheimer, pictured.

Evonik has identified the importance and the growth potential associated with the 3D printing field, and is looking to capitalise on it in the coming years.

“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," she said.

"Evonik’s executive board is committed to developing our PA [polyamide] 12 activities further.”

Earlier this year, Evonik opened another production line for specialty PA powders at its site in the Marl Chemical Park in Germany, increasing Evonik’s annual capacities for PA 12 powders by 50%.

Evonik also opened this year a research hub for resource efficiency topics in Singapore, internationalising its research into the areas of functional surfaces and additive manufacturing.

Other companies, such as Arkema and BASF, have been similarly active in improving their capabilities to take advantage of the 3D printing boom once it becomes a reality.

Arkema recently announced that it is setting up a new commercial platform dedicated to 3D printing, as it looks to accelerate the development of materials and services dedicated to additive manufacturing.

The French producer has also announced new production capacities for polyetherketoneketone (PEKK) resins in the US in 2018, photocure resins in China in 2019, and for polyamide 11 bio-sourced resins in Asia in 2021.

Germany’s BASF, meanwhile, has been steadily making inroads into the 3D printing industry. In July, it invested $25m in Belgium-based 3D printing technology specialist Materialise and acquired all the shares of Advanc3D Materials in Hamburg, Germany, and Setup Performance SAS in Lyon, France.

Elsewhere, Germany’s Henkel opened an innovation and technology centre for 3D printing in Ireland, while Sweden’s Perstorp in May formed a 3D printing joint venture with Dutch firm 3D4Makers.

Evonik's Monsheimer said the company is continuing to work with its customers on new materials that will open up new applications.

“Evonik has recently developed the world’s first flexible plastic material based on PEBA [polyether block amide] for use in 3D printing – a development that will allow manufacturers to create soft structures lime damping elements, tubes, hoses, and sealants," she said.

“Designers are about to explore structures that would not have been possible before. Material characteristsis are not the only route to achieving the properties needed for an application – the macroscopic structure can get us there too,” she concluded.

Pictured above: A 3D printing machine in operation
Picture sources: 
Shutterstock and Evonik

Interview article by Niall Swan