With no less than three new materials, an e-commerce platform, a series of collaborations and even an international student competition, Solvay has geared up to accelerate the development of additive manufacturing.
 
Everyone has an idea what additive manufacturing (AM), the technically accurate denomination of 3D printing, represents. We’ve seen images of nifty little printers making gizmos and models, or even large-scale devices capable of “printing” entire houses. But additive manufacturing goes much further than that. As a revolutionary means to accelerate prototyping, reduce transport costs and grant unprecedented freedom of design, it opens a new page in manufacturing history, and as such, demand is strong – and getting stronger every day.
 
Well, it just so happens Solvay has been busy multiplying announcements in recent months regarding this rapidly growing field. As a provider of high performance materials used to print in 3D, the company has a central role to play in the development of this technology; in fact, Solvay aims to become the industry’s leading provider of additive manufacturing ready specialty polymer solutions.

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Filaments of the imagination

In this context, Solvay announced in the spring of 2018 the launch of its first specialty polymers available as AM-ready filaments, with game-changing performance levels for 3D printed parts made from Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF). The three new filaments are based on the company’s KetaSpire® polyetheretherketone (PEEK) and Radel® polyphenylsulfone (PPSU) polymers, and they are just the first steps in what Solvay plans to become a broader portfolio of specialty polymer filaments and powders designed specifically for high-end AM applications.
 
“Solvay’s new AM filaments signal a convergence between additive manufacturing and specialty polymers technology, which is needed to deliver on the promise of high-end 3D printing,” summarizes Christophe Schramm, business manager for additive manufacturing at Solvay’s Specialty Polymers global business unit. “With the launch of these products, Solvay is laying the foundation of its strategy to become the leading global supplier of advanced AM-ready polymer solutions for 3D printing.”

Tougher than ever

Specifically, what these materials offer is the type of characteristics sought after by the companies and engineers who rely on them to create high-tech prototypes: heat resistance, toughness and wear resistance. The PEEK filaments (namely KetaSpire® PEEK and KetaSpire® Carbon-Filled PEEK, the latter incorporating a 10% carbon fiber reinforcement for increased strength) are designed to enable high part density and strength through the best possible fusion of the printed layers. Radel® PPSU also allows excellent strength, with the added benefits of high transparency, elongation, impact resistance and chemical resistance. Looking ahead, Solvay is further developing an AM-ready powder based on its NovaSpire® polyetherketoneketone (PEKK) polymer, for AM applications in aerospace and healthcare.

Solvay’s proactive approach to this industry also prompted the launch of a new e-commerce platform (www.solvayamshop.com), designed to provide a better customer experience to the fast-growing number of AM users by giving them direct access to Solvay’s advanced material solutions as well as transparent pricing.

A 3D ecosystem

These are great materials no doubt, but alone, they wouldn’t amount to much. Similarly, in the field of additive manufacturing as in many others, Solvay aims to foster innovation through collaboration, by constantly seeking new synergies and playing a proactive part in a dynamic ecosystem of industry leaders and innovators. Initiatives here include collaborations with key players in this field, such as e-Xstream engineering, creator of Digimat® simulation software, and Ultimaker, a global leader in desktop 3D printers.

That’s how KetaSpire® PEEK was the first polyetheretherketone polymer included in Digimat® 2018.1, launched in June 2018, thanks to which users can minimize part deformation before 3D-printing their parts. “Solvay is building on its long-standing partnership with e-Xstream engineering to expand the number of specialty polymers available for simulation on the Digimat® platform, and ultimately enable our customers to ‘print it right the first time,’” says Christophe Schramm. 

“Thanks to Solvay’s expertise and collaborative innovation, Digimat® can offer additive manufacturers cutting-edge new material options to push the design boundaries of their 3D-printed parts”, adds Roger Assaker, CEO of e-Xstream engineering

As for Ultimaker, the company announced in April 2018 a collaborative alliance with leading material providers including Solvay to enable high-level engineering materials compatible with its machines. Solvay Specialty Polymers is developing a material optimised for use on Ultimaker printers, while Ultimaker will provide software to generate and maintain material profiles so that customers can reliably use this material on its 3D printers.

3D race for the prize

Finally, this fall sees the second edition of Solvay’s very own Additive Manufacturing Cup, an international contest in which teams of students take on a high-level 3D replication challenge.

The first AM Cup launched in 2017 saw over 30 teams from 13 countries take up the challenge to print PEEK, a high performing and demanding polymer. This year, participating teams from universities around the world will be required to 3D print a complex part out of PPSU. €10,000 are waiting for the winners, which will be announced in March 2019. The future of additive manufacturing has already started!

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