With the attention 3D printing & Additive Manufacturing (AM) receives, it’s often difficult to believe the technology is actually 30 years old. Chuck Hull, the inventor of 3D printing – then known as stereolithography – developed the idea while he was using UV light to harden tabletop coatings. The first material? A liquid photopolymer.
Today, polymer-based AM is a rapidly evolving world in which designers and engineers are pushing the limits of materials and technologies. Paul Bates is no stranger to 3D printing and AM. Bates, manager of the UL Additive Manufacturing Competency Center (AMCC), has been in the AM industry for more than 20 years and has seen the technology grow from its infancy in simple prototyping to its current game-changing status.
“The most popular materials we see today in polymer AM – for production parts , in particular – are ULTEM™ (Polyetherimide or PEI) for extrusion-based systems and nylons reinforced with carbon or glass for powder bed fusion (sintering) systems,” says Bates. Bates adds the popularity of these materials is driven by their enhanced performance characteristics.
“Characteristics like improved impact and thermal resistance and increased strength and stiffness are immediately beneficial to industries like automotive. One small, but exciting and visible application is in the world of Formula One® racing. They are 3D printing reinforced nylon parts for their race cars.”
As we enter a new year, emerging materials in polymer AM include PEEK (Polyetheretherketone) and PEKK (Polyetherketoneketone). PEEK is considered an advanced biomaterial most often used in medical implants and PEKK is a semi-crystalline thermoplastic in the polyaryletherketone (PAEK) family, with high heat resistance, chemical resistance and the ability to withstand high mechanical loads. With each new material type, AM facilities are learning how to optimize the AM process and produce higher quality final parts.
Bates believes new materials will continue to be introduced, but the most exciting advancements over the past year have been in the AM equipment space. HP’s entry into the industry, the HP Jet Fusion, is unique in that it is capable of adding new characteristics to polymer print material during the print process. Ranging from the visible (color) to the measurable (strength), the HP machine has grabbed the attention and imaginations of the AM industry.
Another headline grabbing technology from the past year is the Carbon M1. Based on SLA (stereolithography) processes, the Carbon M1 produces parts that don’t have the aging characteristics traditionally associated with SLA manufactured parts. Carbon’s process, known as CLIP (Continuous Liquid Interface Production), produces parts that are more similar to injection-molded parts in that the mechanical properties are consistent and predictable. CLIP also enables the user to create parts significantly faster than current SLA or any other AM process.
The combination of new materials and printing methods within polymer AM enable manufacturers to rethink their entire product lifecycle – from design and production to part replacement and disposal. It’s a shift that an AM industry veteran like Paul Bates does not take lightly.
“Right when I think I’ve seen everything you can do with this technology, there’s another engineer pushing it even further. Aerospace, medical, and the automotive industry are all changing because of this. I can’t wait to see what’s next.”
About Paul Bates
Paul Bates, Manager of the UL Additive Manufacturing Competency Center (AMCC), is an industry-recognized Additive Manufacturing veteran. Bates joined UL in 2014 after serving 20+ years at Reebok where he guided the global athletic footwear leader’s Additive Manufacturing Lab and 3D CAD Team as the Director of Advanced Process Engineering. He holds a BS degree in Design Technology from Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green OH, as well as a Master’s Degree in Technology Management from the University of Phoenix. A 2012 recipient of the Additive Manufacturing User Group (AMUG) “Dinosaur” Award and an acting AMUG Vice President, Bates is fluent in numerous AM processes, including SLS, FDM, and PolyJet. In addition to teaching multiple UL AM Training Program courses, Paul oversees the day-to-day operation of the UL AMCC facility.
To learn more about UL’s Additive Manufacturing services, please visit www.UL.com/AM.