Solvay’s additive manufacturing student competition gains momentum

The second edition of the Solvay AM Cup was held this year, continuing to demonstrate the amazing capacities of additive manufacturing, as well as the ingenuity of its young contenders.

Thirty-five teams from almost as many universities spread across three continents took part in the 2019 edition of the Solvay AM Cup, created two years ago by Solvay’s Specialty Polymers business unit to promote the use of its high performance thermoplastics and showcase the advancement of additive manufacturing technologies – better known as “3D printing”.

The winners were announced last April. The three best teams received several thousand euro prizes (to be used for academic, entrepreneurial or social purposes preferably), the first prize going to a one-man team, Gekko Performance, from the Technical University of Munich. “We were happy to see there were more applicants than last year,” says Sophia Song, who managed the contest as Marketing Manager for Additive Manufacturing at Specialty Polymers. “The contenders were students ranging from bachelors to PhDs majoring in chemical, mechanical or environmental engineering, which was the case with the winner. It’s beneficial to have interdisciplinary teams, as additive manufacturing combines technical expertise with computer science and design.”

This competition isn’t about printing something that’s just nice to look at, it’s about creating new possibilities with parts serving a purpose in specific industry applications. There are so many challenges in additive manufacturing, there’s still a lot to explore

Sophia Song, Additive Manufacturing Marketing Manager, Specialty Polymers, Solvay

High performance and high creativity

The students were sent 500g of Solvay’s Radel® polyphenylsulfone (PPSU) and asked to print several shapes, including a pressure pipe, through fused filament fabrication (FFF), one of the three main additive manufacturing technologies. In 2018, for the first edition, the material used was PEEK (polyetheretherketone). “We wanted to create a new and different challenge this year,” says Sophia to explain the switch of material. “PEEK is well-known, so we wanted to change things up while also showing the breadth of our portfolio of materials.”

A jury comprising a journalist specialized in 3D printing, a university professor and three representatives from Solvay convened at the Specialty Polymers’ North American headquarters in Alpharetta, Georgia to assess the parts made by the students and sent over from Europe, Asia and the USA. “We looked at a wide range of characteristics: printing accuracy, mechanical strength, etc.,” says Ryan Hammonds, Group Leader at Specialty Polymers’ Alpharetta Business Incubation R&D, and Jury President for the AM Cup. “We were impressed with how the teams managed to reach the full potential of the material and to solve complex challenges. They also demonstrated remarkable ingenuity.”

2019 Solvay AM Cup Winner Maximilian Kropf

Maximilian Kropf, the German student making up the Gekko Performance team and winner of the competition (pictured above with Brian Alexander, AM Global Product and Application Manager), actually built his own printer for the occasion. “I’d been wanting to do it for a while, but the AM Cup gave me a reason to go ahead and build my own printer,” he says. 

Heralding the potential of additive manufacturing

Solvay AM Cup 2019 Winner_Radel PPSU

The whole idea of the competition is to show just how advanced additive manufacturing has become. Today, 3D printed parts can exhibit almost the same performances as injection molded ones, with greater flexibility in design and production. “We asked the teams to print a pressure pipe because this competition isn’t about printing something that’s just nice to look at, it’s about creating new possibilities with parts but something that’s serving a purpose in specific industry applications,” explains Sophia. So the pipes were submitted to a burst pressure test as part of the evaluation process. 

“We wanted to see if they could withstand pressure, and the best ones held out at the maximum setting our equipment could reach,” says Ryan. “These pipes could be used as they are for plumbing or a variety of other applications, which serves to prove that you can obtain very high performances today with 3D printed parts.” 

“I was really impressed with the quality of the material,” adds Maximilian. “I didn’t expect such results, both in terms of strength and adhesiveness: the PPSU sticks to itself remarkably well, which makes it really easy to print with. I must have printed about 25 pipes, and in the end it was just about perfecting surface quality - the strength was there from the start.”

The 2020 edition of the Solvay AM Cup will continue to further demonstrate all that can be done with 3D printing, with yet another challenge for student teams to meet. “The next edition is in the works; we will definitely change things up again,” says Sophia. “We want to keep it interesting and challenging and also get new people and new universities on board. There are so many challenges in additive manufacturing, there’s still a lot to explore.”

As for Maximilian, he intends to use his prize money to build an even more ambitious 3D printer: one that can make parts several meters long. “I’d like to use it to try and make chains and pipes for example,” he says. Indeed, there is still lots to explore.