From prototypes to mass production: new polymers make 3D printing grow
The influence of the pandemic is radically transforming the habits of production and design of artefacts. According to Context World, which is in charge of analyzing technology markets, 2020 has defined what may be the new industrial scenarios for 3D printing. It has become clear that 3D printing can be leveraged easily and quickly to print when you need almost everything you need. You can get a component without waiting for delivery times or the complex supply chains associated with traditional manufacturing techniques. Items can also be crafted in the region (or even in the same building) where they will be used or assembled. This awareness has led to renewed interest from new markets with a forecast of growth in 3D printer sales of 15% in 2021.
The use of 3D printers is also changing. From a use closely related to the making of prototypes and single objects, new technologies and new polymeric and composite materials are destined to drive the growth of the 3D printing industry and see a development in series production.
The impact of new polymeric materials in 3D printing
3D printing, also called AM (additive manufacturing), born in the 1980s, has consolidated overtime for the rapid creation of prototypes and has found great use in the study of new products and customized pieces. However, prototyping is only one of the applications, because new materials and technologies can use 3D printers in mass production. This is an important transformation in the world of industrial production. One of the main reasons that prevented this production technique from gaining ground was the greater convenience in terms of time and materials of traditional moulding. More sophisticated and faster technologies are catching on alongside more widespread FDM (filament deposition) mode. Systems such as powder bed fusion (called SLS) or tub photopolymerization (SLA) are faster and enable large-scale production.
The technology usually used in additive manufacturing is FDM, which uses a molten polymer filament extruded onto a plate by a head which, with overlapping layers, replicates the object designed by the software. The polymer used is a polyamine and the times are determined by the thickness of the layers and the steps required to get to the finished object. The higher the definition, the thinner layers and therefore the longer the execution time. Moreover, if the classical moulding technique has about 3,000 types of materials available, which can satisfy the demands of all fields of application, for 3D printing there are only 30. Among them, polyamide, which is already widely used in scale productions, adds nothing to traditional products.