3D Systems is known for many things, with long experience in SLS 3D printers and 3D printing materials being among them. Those materials involve a great deal of work to develop, with most people having no idea what goes into the behind-the-scenes complexities. Each material is highly specialized and carefully developed for strength, for elongation, for light weight, or other properties necessary to certain applications, such as for recent work with Emirates Airlines. 3D Systems introduced a new SLS 3D printing system last month and with it, several new materials that added to the company’s growing catalog.
For more insight into the development of those materials as well as the company’s other SLS 3D printing materials, we heard from Scott Cost, Director SLS Product Management for 3D Systems.
What new SLS materials have been developed by 3D Systems and what applications do they have?
“Market insight indicated that there was a need for aluminum-filled plastic parts can be used for parts that need to have a low weight, but still need metallic properties, such as knobs, handles, certain automotive parts and consumer electronics. Combining flexibility with durability, the ProX DuraForm AF Plus was developed with this in mind and underwent rigorous testing. We at 3D Systems want to ensure that each material is optimized for each printer to produce parts with consistent mechanical properties and surface quality.
In addition to aluminium-filled plastic, customers especially from the automotive industry requested a true black-colored production-grade material that produces parts ready to go with minimal post-processing, so without any coating requirements. EX Black has been developed which is a Nylon 11 material that has a much better elongation and impact resistance than Nylon 12.
The toughest material to develop, in my view, was the FR1200 that we produced for Emirates Airlines. This required the full process of certification. In aerospace, materials that are flame retardant are essential, and each airline follows rigorous certification processes for any part that is fitted within an airplane. FR1200 is FAR 25.853 compliant, which is the flame retardant standard for aerospace.”
What kind of testing processes do you deploy at 3D Systems to deliver production-grade materials?
“It depends on the intended application for each material. End use interior parts need to have flexibility, durability and impact resistance while assembly jigs and fixtures need strength and rigidity. We strive to offer materials that can cover all additive manufacturing needs.
For ProX DuraForm AF Plus, we ran thousands of sample parts to dial in the proper settings. These settings are then embedded in a configuration file that the printer uses when DuraForm AF Plus is loaded in the machine. This guarantees that the wide range of applications and geometries meet the rigorous quality standards needed for production-grade additive manufacturing.
EX Black, when used for automotive interior parts or consumer goods parts, has to be able to withstand continuous impact and exposure to the elements without failing, and it does.
For EX Black, we needed to address the issue that Nylon 11 is more difficult to run consistently for most printers. This is another example of where we at 3D Systems have taken the time to optimize settings, to fully test the material and to validate the mechanical properties so that when EX Black is running on a 3D Systems printer, it is delivering production-grade parts with the strength and durability needed to meet the demands of end users.
The FR1200 went through rigorous testing to pass the Emirates certification process. These tests included durability and impact resistance, but also more in-depth certifications to ensure that the parts are flame retardant. It also passed tests for AITM smoke density and toxicity requirements and has a UL certification for consumer goods. Furthermore, Emirates has a Form 1 certification validating that the seatback part design is approved for aircraft use.
The entire process of certification for FR1200 took almost 12 months, and each certification has to be approved by a different governing body. As with our other materials, thousands of test parts were built to ensure a consistent quality and flame retardancy. Each build produced dozens of parts and had to have a 100% adherence to the FAR and AITM specifications. If a part failed, the settings had to be reconfigured and the consistency of powder was re-evaluated until each batch passed. The Form 1 certification process is quite arduous as well. The Form 1 certification has to be completed on a part-by-part basis, a process that can take 6 months for each part to be approved. 3D Systems attention to testing and validating each of their materials is essential to delivering quality materials for each and every part, spanning the wide variety of geometries and applications for which additive manufacturing is used. Without the tightly monitored testing, the certification process could take two years or longer to complete.”
Why is it so important to choose an additive manufacturing supplier that has the expertise and inclination to develop and test new materials?
“Engineers are constantly looking for improvements and iteration to achieve better results and respond to ever changing requirements. This is why 3D Systems has spent the last two years developing new materials, designed to satisfy our customers’ demands for elongation, flexibility, impact strength, rigidity, temperature resistance or flame retardancy.
3D Systems has put the time and effort into making sure each material delivers the quality expected from each part. We have done the hard work for our customers, and they appreciate that.
Ultimately, it saves time and money when you know that the materials have been fully tested by our experts.”
Why is it more cost-efficient to develop production-grade materials that can be used for both prototyping and end use parts?
“The majority of additive manufacturing suppliers focus only on meeting prototyping needs because the material demands for strong physical properties are less rigorous. Choosing production-grade materials is more cost efficient than only serving prototyping needs because the parts last longer without failing and that durability over time saves money and effort:
- Smaller companies can now offer true manufacturing solutions at a lower cost of entry
- True production-grade materials allow customization of parts without having to purchase tooling, saving money and time
- You choose: as we optimize each material for the printer, the parts can be used for either prototyping or production. Consistent part quality and surface finish require minimal post-processing – no more dyeing or washing parts
Customers no longer need to switch materials based on if the application is for prototyping or production.
If you have any questions or would like to learn more, get in touch – we are here to support: www.3dsystems.com/contact”
There is a great deal of materials expertise at 3D Systems, and that expertise has resulted in wide adoption of its materials and machines in aerospace, automotive, healthcare and other verticals. The company is continually – and ambitiously – innovating, and as Cost has described, no materials are put on the market without a great deal of time and effort. Knowing how much time and effort does go into the development of materials for demanding applications puts a customer’s mind at ease – time is taken to make sure that every application is approached with high-quality materials.
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[Images: 3D Systems]