Jun 27, 2016 | By Alec
While 3D printing is becoming increasingly popular in several large scale industries – especially as a prototyping tool – 3D printers are not exactly replacing most standard production techniques just yet. In part, that’s due to a very limited number of materials that are 3D printable. Fortunately, German company Covestro – formerly Bayer ScienceMaterial – is tackling this issue. As the company just revealed, they have opened a new materials lab in which they will explore the development of a wide variety of new 3D printable materials, with an eye on all common 3D printing techniques – including FDM, SLA and SLS.
This is great news, as few other companies are as equipped to develop new materials as Covestro. One of the world’s leading polymer developers, they supply plastics to variety of industries throughout the world, including the automotive, construction and electronic industries, as well as the furniture, textile, and even sporting goods sectors. In 2015, the company saw sales of more than €12.1 billion, while they operate 30 production sites around the world and employ more than 15,000 people.
Covestro is also no stranger to 3D printing, having a wide range of 3D printable materials in their portfolio already. They are particularly known for producing high-performance polymers, including thermoplastic polyurethanes (TPU), polyurethane (PU), and polycarbonates. Back in 2015, they collaborated with Shanghai-based Polymaker to produce Polymaker PC-Plus and PC-Max polycarbonate-based filaments for desktop FDM 3D printers. Covestro also produces TPU powders for selective laser sintering 3D printers, which are already used for the industrial production of individualized high-performance shoe soles by Covestro’s partner Lehmann&Voss&Co.
But as the company revealed, there’s still a woeful lack of 3D printable materials, which makes 3D printing far less attractive than many other manufacturing processes. “While over 3,000 materials are available for conventional component manufacturing, only about 30 are available for 3D printing,” they say. In an attempt to fight that, the company revealed that they are working on a comprehensive range of filaments, powders and liquid resins for all common 3D printing methods – with the express goal of making 3D printing more flexible than ever before and far more suitable for industrial mass production.
To realize this, Covestro recently opened a new 3D printing laboratory, right next to its headquarters in Leverkusen, Germany. That lab is currently being outfitted with additional equipment and will be used by Covestro and its partners to develop and test these new material solutions. It is also staffed by an experienced team of additive manufacturing specialists.
What’s more, the company revealed they are also looking to build new partnerships with an eye on 3D printing. “We want to work with leading partners in the process chain to further advance these developments,” said Julien Guiu, who leads the company’s global 3D printing activities. “These include formulators, 3D printer manufacturers, software companies, service providers and of course OEMs.” Among others, they are looking to integrate their material data into 3D printing software through a partnership, believing that this will greatly optimize 3D printers’ capabilities.
So what kind of materials can be expected? While the company did not specify exactly what is coming, they did say that their specialists will be looking at a very broad range of materials and technologies, including stereolithography (SLA), digital light process (DLP), FDM and inkjet 3D printing. We can further expect plenty of variety when it comes to material properties such as toughness and heat resistance. If successful, Covestro could thus make 3D printing a far more attractive manufacturing option.