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The Weird World of Materials

Nylon CF, Antero 800, precious metals, tree pulp… orange peel?

It’s exciting and sometimes plain baffling to see 3D printing materials being taken to weird, wonderful and let’s face it, pretty unexpected places. Orange peel? Didn’t see that one coming. It does, however, make quite a lot of sense. The ‘Feel the Peel’ project is a collaboration between innovative design and innovation company, Carlo Ratti Associati and global energy company, Eni. With the circular economy at its core (pardon the fruit-based pun), the juice bar not only squeezes the fruit to produce the juice, it then uses the dried peel to create a bioplastic filament to 3D print the cups. You can watch the experimental juice bar in action here. It’s a wonderful example of innovative and creative thinking providing unexpected solutions.

With naturally derived materials in mind, earlier this year we looked at how French architect, Arthur Mamou-Mani developed a new 3D printing filament using pulp from Douglas fir trees. Manou-Mani used this material to create a series of interlocking bioplastic modules that formed a pavilion for Milan Design Week. He commented: “Technology alone doesn’t really matter, it’s what you do with it, and to me it’s only interesting if we are helping the planet.”

We’ve some way to go before standard Additive Manufacturing can be seen as helping the planet although, by its very nature, AM embraces the notion of reduced waste and the streamlining of manufacturing processes. It will be interesting to see more and more of these experimental materials in 3D printing. And how more recycled, recyclable and ‘natural’ materials might enter the market in the future. There is a large gap, however, between the perceived novelty of an experimental project and a realistic, workable material for industry. We’ll be watching, nevertheless!

From unexpected materials to unexpected problems. Earlier this week we came across this article from Fabbaloo’s Kerry Stevenson. He had a chat about gold with a producer of a powder-based metal 3D printing system while at last month’s TCT show. It’s interesting reading as it transpires the major barrier to printing with a gold-based powder is, well, not one that first springs to mind. It seems that the technology or the material properties are not the problem, but for precious metals, it’s largely about security. The demands of securely holding large quantities of valuable, extremely desirable material render precious metals out of reach for most producers.

Whilst the naturally limited resource of precious metals will never become a standard print medium for us bureaus, they do have their place in industries such as aerospace. Precious metals, including super alloys such as inconel, might be expensive and hard to get hold of (or in the case of super alloys, hard to make), but they do offer superb properties for 3D printed parts. And, of course, AM means bypassing the expensive and time-consuming tooling and casting processes. If you need low volume parts with great thermal and electrical conduction, then by all means, go for gold.

Precious metals, fruit and trees aside, what’s on the horizon for bureaus such as ourselves? What new materials can you expect to see at Fluxaxis in the near future? We already offer a comprehensive catalogue of25+ different materials for our Stratasys Fortus 900. And this is set to expand even further. Fancy printing in Nylon Carbon Fibre or Antero 800? Well, we can help.

Nylon CF is currently one of the stiffest materials available for printing. Stiffness, (the extent to which an object or material resists deformation in response to an applied force) is an especially important property for component manufacture. If you require stiffness, but don’t need the strength of a metal, then designing a part to be manufactured in Nylon CF makes sense. The predictability of how a component will behave when in context, is paramount. Many manufacturers are replacing parts with 3D printed Nylon CF components as this material delivers the desired stiffness and predictable functionality.

Antero 800 belongs to a high-performing family of high-temperature thermoplastics. It’s a PEKK polymer and in reality, it’s pretty much the pinnacle when it comes to thermoplastic print materials. It also has an exceptional chemical resistance making it ideal for parts that come into contact with corrosive fluids. Antero 800 is especially useful for the oil, gas and transport industries and is in fact, the newest material to be certified for use in rail, automotive and aerospace. It carries the same certification as Ultem 9085, which we already offer on our Fortus 900.

This year’s Formnext Expo in Frankfurt will see Stratasys announce all sorts of new products and innovations - including some brand-new print materials. Formnext takes place 19th to 22nd November, so it’s not too long for our eager team to wait. And when we have all the details, we’ll let you know! The launch of new materials always stimulates interesting discussion amongst our team. It’s even better when, thanks to our close working relationship with Stratasys, we maybe even get to experiment with them too. That’s what we love about the 3DP world. It’s constantly changing and constantly developing. And so are we.

If you have a project we can help with, please get in touch!

(If you’d like to print in orange peel, perhaps it’s best to contact Carlo Ratti Associates.)