From commodity plastics all the way to high-performance plastics, we have tested them all. Read into our adventures with those different materials.

Introduction to polymers

 

The term “polymer” or plastics refers to a rather simple concept, which can be easily explained with some simplified chemistry.  To understand the world of polymers, we will look at materials used in everyday items and what regulates their properties and behavior.  This is the introduction to our series into plastics, their properties and their wide range of applications. So keep an eye on our blog page for more to come!

What is a polymer?

Polymers, or plastics (both words can be used as synonyms) are one of the 5 main families of materials:

  • Metals
  • Ceramics and glasses
  • Woods
  • Polymers
  • Composites (usually a combination of a polymer and an additive from another family)

Materials from the same family have a similar behavior. For example, metals and ceramics are much more resistant thermally and mechanically than polymers, but also a lot harder to process. In most cases, polymers are rather inexpensive and easy-to-process, lightweight materials used for a variety of commodity applications and some high performance applications.

Polymers from a chemical perspective

Why is ABS softer than steel? The physical (mechanical, thermal) behavior of polymers differentiates them from the other families and comes from their unique chemical nature. In other terms, their macroscopic properties depend on their microscopic structure. Understanding the macro/micro links is the key to predict and control polymers and all materials.

Plastics are considered organic matter, which means that the majority of their mass is carbon-based. At a microscopic level, unlike other materials, polymers consist of large groups of atoms called macromolecules. What differentiates polymers from “normal” matter is that they are made of molecules of great size called macromolecules, instead of much smaller molecules or even atoms.

 

atom-macro-molecule-plastic

 

Instead of thinking of plastics as solids, think of them as being made of long molecules called “chains”, this can simplify scientific explanations. For instance, molten plastic can be seen as long molecules sliding against one another like a fluid.

Molecules are mostly carbon-based causing the light weight of plastics, and their great size is the source of their durability. While remaining chemically similar, polymers have an incredible diversity for a limitless range of applications.

Plastic polypropylene beads, Industrial multi colour granules

 

Categories of polymers for different applications

The family of polymers can be divided in subcategories. A commonly used method is to classify plastics depending on their application level:

3devo’s Pyramid of Polymers shows simply what the different tiers of plastics are, their applications with the most common examples.

High-performance polymers tend to be more expensive than the lower tiers of plastics, but they are not the only solution. The best material varies depending on the constraints that come with a specific application. Surprisingly working materials can be discovered by mixing certain polymers with certain additives, like carbon fibers.

Working with plastics

Most polymers are thermoplastics, meaning they are capable of being melted/solidified via heating/cooling. Melting a polymer means heating it until its macromolecular chains can move freely, this polymer can then be given a new shape. That is exactly what extrusion, injection molding, and 3D printing do: melting the polymer with heat and giving it a new shape (then cooling it down, of course).

Filament extrusion and 3D printing go perfect together: the extrusion step reshapes granules or powder into filament, the 3D printing step then reshapes the filament into any other item.

If you want to dig deeper into the extrusion process, stay tuned for our extrusion blog series in the upcoming weeks. In the mean time, you can learn about how a plastic can be melted and reused, you can find a recycling study here:

 

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Top 5 Benefits of Filament Extruders

 

 

What can possibly make 3D printing even more fun and captivating? A variety of filaments you can use to bring ideas to life! That why making your own filament is convenient and fun.  Just in case you still have a hard time grasping the value in filament making – No problem, here are some points to guide you.

 

If you’ve worked with the 3D printing long enough, you may have felt a glint of disappointment regarding the lack of the materials you wish to try in your projects. Of course, color changing, and glowing filaments are fun, just like the super-flexible ones, but creators need more potential and more appliance possibilities for their final printed items. And this is the exact reason to consider making your own 3D filament instead of purchasing the ready-made one.

1. Customization

We don’t know about your experience, but we face the defective filament too often to blame it on the coincidence. Different thickness, fragility, lamination – all of these low-quality 3D filament features can ruin your project, or even become a cause of your 3D printer’s breakdown.

Customization – creating your material with the required properties – can eliminate all these listed problems. And here are the reasons, why.

  • Filament extruder allows controlling all features of the produced filament. Thanks to the built-in thickness meter, possibility to customize all the stages of granules heating, multiple sensitive sensors, the filament you’ll get will have the identically perfect properties without any thicknesses or thinnings, overburnt sections, cavities.
  • You can combine different materials in order to get entirely new blends. When the standard assortment of filaments satisfies you neither with quality nor with characteristics, you’re able to experiment with different types of plastic granules, additives, tweaking compounds to obtain something brand-new for your projects.
Filament in different colors
Image source: filaments.directory

2. Convenience

When making your own printing material using a 3D filament extruder, you’re controlling the future of filament.

Let’s say you need less than a kilo of the Bio PE, but don’t want to wait several days before the delivery? Simply extrude whatever amount of 3D filament is required at the time it’s needed!

A home-made filament is convenient because:

  • You make the needed amount of the printing material and don’t have to keep dozens of half-empty spools you’ve used once and not going to try anymore.
  • The filament will not be stored in improper conditions. Sunlight, temperature change, high humidity damage the structure of the filament making it inapplicable for printing. But when you create it on-the-go and then immediately use it for craft, you get the best quality without any odd material remains.
  • No need to order filament from unreliable sites. Every time you buy 3D filament on the Internet you rely on luck – its quality is quite hard to predict unless you’re shopping from your trusted manufacturer. Then again, having a filament extruder, the printing material you’ll be using in the craft will pass your quality test, so the prints will always be up to your standards.
  • Have filament when you need it. Don’t count days before delivery – your perfect 3D filament is always within reach!unreliable filament bad filament bad tolerance

3. Cost

Let’s look at the price of the spool of the regular black PLA filament. You won’t find a decent material cheaper than $17 per 1 kilogram. This price, apart from the raw material price, includes the cost of the manufacturing (electricity, heat, industrial workstation, employees paycheck), shipping, storage, and seller’s extra charge.

Comparing the price of the ready-made PLA with the PLA pellets, you will see an unbelievable variation of prices: 1 kilogram of the most expensive PLA granules costs $5. Thus, when you buy filament pellets instead of manufactured spools you save around $12 per kilogram.

Of course, a quality filament extruder will cost money, and you absolutely don’t need it if 3D printing is your part-time hobby. In this case, you may never pay off the cost of the equipment, and the purchase will only leave you with a hole in your pocket.

Costs of filament making
However, if 3D printing for you is something more than making models of your favorite cartoon characters, we’d recommend thinking about buying a filament extruder to fulfill your demands.

4. Sustainability

We all know how often 3D printing process becomes interrupted by different issues – from a jammed nozzle to an accidental warping. You stop the machine, fix the problem and start printing again, but what about the plastic the printer has already used?

In many 3D workshops, such wasted material is collected for the re-using needs. The concept is simple:

  • Collect defected plastic
  • Clean and let it dry
  • Put it into the special plastic shredder
  • Manufacture the filament from the plastic granules using filament extruder

sustainability filament maker shredder

Such a scheme not only saves you a sufficient amount of money but also protects nature from redundant plastic pollution. Benefiting all sides of the ecosystem.

5. Profit

Filament extruders, on the top of all these advantages, are a promising source of income. You can freely share it with the other people for the additional price. Cost of the granulated plastic – even summarized with the charge for your services – won’t excel the price of the spooled filament. This way you’ll have a source of the passive income, and your extruder won’t stand idly when you won’t need it.

In addition, we’ve already discussed how you can use the extruder in order to experiment with the materials. Other 3D printing fans will appreciate a close-by source of cheap qualitative filament, so your extruder will have less chance to cool down!

To buy or not to buy a 3D filament extruder

This is not your option if you’re absolutely fine with the filament you buy from the manufacturer, as well as if you turn on 3D printer once a month. Still, when printing is your primary occupation, filament extruder is an excellent investment in your printer’s well-being and your creative freedom. Defective printing material is our collective nightmare, and an efficient extruder can really change a situation with filaments for better.

 

Do you want to know the latest news from the 3D printing world? Do you know why PEI is one of the coolest printing materials available on the market? Or what you can do with PETG filament? Well, you’ll find all the answers in our 3devo blog. Don’t miss an opportunity to learn something cool!

 

 

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3 Reasons Why 3D Printing Filaments are so Expensive

 

 

Why are filaments so expensive and what you can do about it?

When buying filaments for your 3D printer, a common question may come across your mind – Why are these things so expensive? After all, it’s only a piece of plastic, right?

Yes, but there is more to 3D filaments than what meets the eye! We invite you to explore with us some of the factors which affect the price of a filament. We shall immerse ourselves in the basics of filaments and what it costs to get them from the manufacturer to your home. In addition, we will offer several secrets that will help you reduce the cost of filaments without sacrificing quality.

pla abs spool extruder 3devo

1. Material

3D printer filaments are made of various polymers, which is the technical name for various ‘plastics’. Polymers are chains of repeating segments of molecules. The most common ones include ABS (a co-polymer of acrylonitrile, butylene, and styrene) and PLA (polylactic acid). We invite you to learn more about them in the following article. Never less, 3D printing may utilize almost any polymer, if it has the following properties.

  1. Thermoplasticity
    It may be remolded when heated – Essential for 3D printing.
  2. Ductility
    It can be “stretched out” when heated – Though it must not “leak” once it has been set.
  3. Durability
    It is durable when cooled down – This property can be enhanced or compromised based on your project.

The quality of a filament is determined by these properties. Additionally, you may require further special abilities for a specific product, such as flexibility (nylon), weather resistance (ASA), or outright strength (polycarbonate). In the graphic below, you can see which materials are the superheroes in their respective categories.

Types of filaments and their properties
Types of filaments and their properties

The cost of a polymer plays the main role in the overall price of the filament. Each comes from a different source and requires various techniques to prepare.

Quality of a polymer can also be reduced by impurities, which are common when it is prepared by cheaper methods. I can testify to this with my own experience. Even though I have been at first pleased to find cheap filaments on some e-commerce websites, I have always ended up with low-quality products, that leaked, cracked, smelled bad, etc.

Good vs. bad filament
This illustrates the bad results with low-quality filaments.

2. Additives

Let’s talk about a less mentioned, yet very important part of filaments – the additives! The color of filaments alone suggests that they contain something more than just pure plastic. It is fascinating to explore the variety of enhancements that can be included in a filament and the effect that they have on its price.

The most common additive is a dye. Dyes vary wildly in qualityfactors such as color, solubility, UV resistance, and toxicity can play a role in their price. This is the case especially for fluorescent dyes which glow in dark, or UV active dyes which glow under UV light.

Glow in the dark

Additives can also improve the physical properties of the product. A very important example is hardness, which can vary wildly even when we consider a single type of polymer. This is achieved by adding only small amounts of a necessary additive. But it’s by far not the only property that we can introduce!
Other common additives include flame retardants and autoxidizing agents. The small amount of additives does not impact the stability of the polymer, yet it expands the possible applications of 3D printed products. How cool is that?!

A product that obviously could not be flammable
A product that obviously could not be flammable.

3. Processing, packaging and a niche market

Let’s take a look at a less technical topic, which is an issue of both quality and quantity. The processing of polymers into filaments is not necessarily expensive, but it requires special equipment to achieve their uniform dimensions. You may have already found that out the hard way, since cheap filaments often end up getting stuck in the printer. The use of expensive specialized equipment necessary for precise extrusion will be reflected in the price.

After extrusion, the filament is cut, packaged and sold not in bulk, but in single threads. It is necessary to wind every single filament onto a plastic spindle, which is called spooling. The spool adds to the weight quite a bit, which increases the amount of fuel required to ship them. It is also inefficient since the rolled up filaments contain a lot of air. This contributes to the price as well.

A single filament
A single filament.

We must also account for the size of the market. This is the concept known as the rule of supply and demand. 3D printing is a fast growing, but still a niche market. This means that there aren’t many filament manufacturers, especially ones who would sell high quality products. The demand is increasing, but the production is expensive and low in volume – think of Tesla cars as another example. Thus, the manufacturers can ask for more money than for other polymer products, such as plastic spoons.

Tips – How to reduce the cost of a filament

From the reasons we have given, it may seem that compromising on the price of a filament will most likely result in a bitter surprise – and you would be right! Still, there are ways to get around this. Here are is a brief overview of the top 5 tips to lower 3D printing costs.

  1. Buying in bulk is always cheaper than by single spools. You may buy multicolor sets, or simply order a wholesale package of filaments.
  2. Read reviews, recommendations and compare prices. Thanks to the internet, we have all the information at our disposal!
  3. Make sure to plan your project thoroughly. Not only that you will not overpay for unnecessarily expensive polymers, but you will end up using less.
  4. Consider extruding your own 3D filaments from granulates. As seen in the table below, filaments are far more expensive than granulate they are made from.
  5. Recycle your products. This requires specialized equipment that reduces plastic products to granulate.
Material Filament price/USD per kg Granulate price/USD per kg
ABS $75 $5
PLA $75 $5
ASA $45 $4
Nylon $110 $10
Flexible $110 $10

(*Comparison of popular filament and granulate prices can be found  here*)

Conclusion

Material, additives and production costs all add up to the final market value. But don’t worry; we have also given you several ways to reduce the cost of your 3D printing operation! Still, there is so much more to 3D printing! Be sure to check out further articles on our blog to learn more about specific types of filaments, extruders and recycling.

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Our Filament Makers Just Got Better

Precision,Composer, filament maker, extruder, 3d printing, 3devo

Meet the brand-new Precision and Composer series

These past few months have been exciting here at 3devo. We looked into everything that made our filament makers a success, and everything that could make them better. Now we’re proud to announce two new-and-improved series of products. Here’s a first look at the Precision Series and Composer Series filament makers. These latest devices make working with materials simpler than ever, offering even more possibilities in manufacturing and innovation.

Focused on better results

Our NEXT filament maker found numerous amounts of applications in industries ranging from education and research to manufacturing and aerospace. They brought users a variety of benefits including shorter lead times, reduced material waste, and increased control over material making. Also, they facilitated material research and customization, while introducing the precision of industrial filament making to desktop-based setups.

However, we realized that our filament makers could serve these purposes even better – if they focused on specific requirements. Our new Precision and Composer Series filament makers are specialized, result-oriented machines aimed at simplifying the material making process. Each in a different way.

The Precision Series filament maker

The Precision series enables mass production of 3D printing filament with improved speeds and diameter accuracy. With a high-flow extruder screw, this allows filament to be produced at high speeds while also maintaining diameter precision.

The Composer Series filament maker

The Composer series targets material mixing and experimentation, allowing innovators to develop custom filament from a wide variety of polymers and additives. With a mixing screw, this delivers quality material mixing and compounding.

Both series have two additional models that address material-specific requirements. The Precision 350 and the Composer 350 can handle temperatures up to 350°C, allowing them to comfortably process polymers including PLA, ABS, PC, PS, PETG, TPU, TPE, PPS, PA (6,12,66) along with others. The Precision 450 and the Composer 450 have higher temperature tolerances (up to 450°C), which means they can additionally process high-performance polymers like PAEK, PSU, PTFE, PVDF and more.

Find out more about choosing the perfect 3devo filament maker.

It’s what’s inside that counts

Our new filament makers contain numerous upgrades and improvements to deliver even better results. Here is what we improved:

Swappable design

Every Precision and Composer model has an improved extruder system with an innovative ‘swappable’ design. We’ve designed the entire extruder system – extruder screw, barrel, die-head, motor and heaters – as an independent, removable unit to simplify cleaning, repair and maintenance. Disassembling and reattaching this unit is a quick and simple process that users can  now manage on their own.

Advanced heating system

Efficient temperature handling is central to high-quality filament extrusion. To this end, we’ve upgraded the heating system. All Precision and Composer filament makers now contain ceramic band heaters with 4 controllable heating zones. Each heater is handcrafted in-house to ensure top-of-the-line quality.  Giving you complete control over the extrusion process. To further improve filament quality, all machines have hoppers with closeable caps to prevent material contamination.

Upgraded software

In addition to their enhanced design and build, our new-generation filament makers have upgraded software that improves their thermal stability by up to 35%.

Stay in the loop

We’re also in the works of developing a web app with cloud access, which will enable active data logging of extrusion tests. But that is a topic for a future post, so stay tuned! In the meantime, learn more about our Precision and Composer series here.

filament maker 350 450 composer precision

PET Recycling – From Bottle to Filament

Recycling. A word often related to large companies receiving tons and tons of paper or plastic in an effort to reduce our carbon footprint. However if we look at plastic bottles for instance, humans buy a million plastic bottles per minute, and 91% of all plastic is not recycled. This article is going to cover what makes plastic recycling so important, how to recycle PET and the future of recycling in 3D printing.

What is PET Recycling?

Focusing on plastic bottles here, they have one huge advantage – unlimited recycling potential. PET is one of the few polymers that can be recycled into the same form over and over again. Think of it as a closed-loop recycling solution.

PET recycling loop
The “closed-loop” of PET recycling. Image via PETCO

Recycled PET, or rPET, can be used to make many new products. This can range from clothing, automotive parts, packaging as well as bottles for food/non-food products. Depending on the application required, rPET will be blended with the original PET.

What Are The Uses of Recycled PET (rPET)?

As mentioned above, rPET has many great uses, which includes:

  • Food containers
  • Polyester carpet fiber
  • Fabric for T-shirts
  • Athletic shoes
  • Luggage and upholstery
  • Sweaters and fiberfill for sleeping bags and winter coats
  • Industrial strapping
  • Sheet and film
  • Automotive parts
  • New PET containers
Some recycled PET products

Using rPET in place of the normal or virgin PET has substantial environmental impacts as well as reducing overall energy consumption.

Creating Our Own Filament from Plastic Bottles

Now that we’ve covered the background of recycling PET, how exactly does one go about doing the actual recycling? The one method is simply going to your local recycling company and dumping your plastic waste there, or having it picked up at home if that company provides a pick-up functionality. The other method though is a bit more rewarding – doing it yourself.

We wanted to test of normal plastic bottles can be turned into 3D printing filament. The following is a quick summary of our tests to turn around 30 bottles into filament.

  • Water bottles were collected, cleaned (properly) and any external caps or seals were also removed
  • The bottles were then vacuum sealed and heated to reduce their size
  • Once cooled the bottles were cut into smaller chunks with a saw and a pair of scissors
  • After that, the pieces were shredded into tiny pieces using our SHR3D IT
  • The pieces were then dried at a temperature of 160°C for 4 hours
  • The PET was then fed into our Next filament extruder
  • After multiple tests at different nozzle diameters and temperatures, our team ended up with a great result of PET filament
PET Filament Final Result
Final results of the filament

Click for the complete test and the different results.

The Future of Plastic Recycling in 3D Printing

The biggest issue that faces 3D printing recycled filament – dirt. With the above experiment, just cleaning those bottles took a great deal of effort. Now imagine doing it with tons of plastic, often coming from dumps that have been contaminated all forms of impurities.

Also, one has to take note that different types of plastic produce different types of filament. High-density polyethylene — shampoo bottles, for example — are relatively easy to convert into filament, but it’s difficult to print with because it shrinks more than other plastics as it cools. On the other hand, PET, prints well but is brittle, making it difficult to spool as filament.

Recently, we saw the US Department of Defense (DoD) is exploring 3D printing feedstock made from plastic containers that have been left on the battlefield, which can hopefully be reproduced in other government sectors. There’s also Ethical Filament, a company focused on promoting the concept of recycling to produce ethical 3D printing filament that is sold to improve the livelihoods of waste pickers and their communities worldwide. Then there’s the Perpetual Plastic Project (PPP), which is an installation which can directly recycle old plastic drinking cups into 3D printing gadgets as well as other plastic products if needed.

While there is more and more aware of using recycled filament for 3D printing, we still have a long way to go. Hopefully, with the rise in 3D printing over the last few years, more emphasis is being placed on plastic recycling.

 

PEI – Extruding The High-Performance Polymer

PEI, Polyetherimide, is one of the more rare polymers we have tested here at 3devo. That, however, does not mean it is any less useful. This high performance engineering thermoplastic, usually with an amber to transparent colour, makes a great name for itself in various high-demanding applications. It can often replace metal or other strong substances thanks to its impressive chemical and mechanical properties, but how well does it extrude? In this article we will make a brief overview of PEI as well as our extrusion tests for this strong polymer.

Filament Summary

PEI’s characteristics include extreme rigidity, high strength (even at elevated temperatures), long term heat resistance, dimensional stability and good electrical properties. It is easy to spot due to its light amber colour (unfilled) and is usually semi-transparent. Like other amorphous, high temperature resins, PEI has outstanding dimensional stability and is inherently flame retardant.

PEI does resist chemicals, such as hydrocarbons, alcohols and halogenated solvents. Creep resistance over the long term allows PEI to replace metal and other materials in many structural applications. It is also widely used in electronics because of its good arc resistance and dielectric constant. Furhermore, PEI is UFDA/USDA and USP class VI compliant.

Applications

PEI used in vape mouthpieces (left) to plastic manifolds (right) via Carville Plastics
  • Reusable machined components
  • Aircraft/Automotive instrumentation
  • Plastic Manifolds
  • Electrical insulators
  • Electrical component housings

Advantages

  • Great thermal stability (continuous use temperature of 365F/180° C)
  • High strength
  • Continuous rigidity and strength to 340F (170°C)
  • Dimensionally stable
  • Excellent flame and heat resistance (UL 94 V-0 rated)
  • Consistent dielectric properties over a range of frequencies
  • Good acid resistance
  • High resistance to autoclave sanitizing
  • Low moisture absorption
  • Can withstand steam autoclaving
  • Inherently flame retardant
  • Certified Grades for food-contact and bio-compatibility applications

Disadvantages

  • Can be expensive
  • Not a lot of colour choices (amber or sometimes transparent)

Extruding PEI (ULTEM 1010 Resin)

Here at 3devo we were able to acquire some PEI for extrusion tests (Ultem 1010 Resin was used). Because of its high strength factors we were interested to see what the results would be. Below is an overview of the whole process, however, for a more detailed report please contact us via the sales contact page.

Preparation

PEI resin (left) and adding it into the hopper (right)

First cleaning of the extruder had to take place. Using ASACLEAN™ GL2, followed by ASACLEAN™ PX2, we were able to clean the device to prevent any impurities impacting the results. Once both materials had run through the device in order to properly clean it, the heaters were all set to the same temperature (160 °C).

Observation Indicators

There are three important things to look out for when extruding new filament for the first time:

  • How does the filament look? Are there any signs of bubbles/holes, die lines, weld
    lines, melt fracture or warpage?
  • Is the flow similar to that of standard PLA (when using the same rpm)?
  • Is it possible to pull the material without any trouble (the material does not stick to
    the puller wheel and does not break as a result of the force of the puller)?

Extrusion Summary

Extruding PEI (left) and the results (right)

After multiple tests, we concluded that PEI is able to be successfully extruded with the NEXT. The tests we ran determined that PEI should be extruded below 370 °C (but not too low) in order to prevent bubbles and holes from forming, and that proper cleaning methods should be used in order to determine the best results.

Conclusion

In the end, PEI was a very interesting polymer to test out compared to other ones we have tested in the past. Its high strength, rigidity and thermal stability meant that a lot of care had to be taken when running the tests. PEI though is a great filament and very useful, especially in aerospace and automotive applications.

Zortrax Filament – Extruding the Filament

Zortrax is a name renowned for precision engineering. Most famous for their exclusive line of 3D printers, namely the M300 and M200, creating high quality prints with ease. However, Zortrax also shine in their range of filaments. These all boast great qualities and are ideal for a range of uses from prototypes to decorative elements.

range-zortrax
Zortrax range of 3D printers (photo via Zortrax).

We soon decided to focus on one of their more popular filaments: Z-ULTRAT. Therefore, we wanted to see how well it would extrude, and what use it could be for you or your business.

Filament Summary

Z-ULTRAT filament (photo via Zortrax).

The Z-ULTRAT is no ordinary filament, designed purely for its own Zortrax M200 3D Printer. Its main features (high hardness and durability) make it great for prototyping mechanical parts, architectural models and design prototypes. Below are its key features:

Name Z-ULTRAT 3D Printing Filament Cool Grey 1.75mm 800g
Filament Material ABS
Printing technology LPD (Layer Plastic Deposition)
Dedicated device Zortrax M200 3D Printer
Features
  • Durable and strong
  • High hardness level
  • Low elasticity
  • Low level of deformation
Weight 1 kg (2.2 lb) gross wt. / 800 g (1.76 lb) net. wt.
Efficient melting point for 3D printing 269 – 279 °C [516 – 534 F]
Glass Transition Temperature 144 °C [291 F]
Vicat Softening Temperature 130 °C [266 F]
Thermal Expansion Minimal
Odor Nearly odorless
Hazards Product does not present any hazard while operating

For more information visit the official Zortrax Z-ULTRAT page.

While these are all good features, it is not so easy for extrusion. Especially when comparing it to PLA. The next step will look at testing how well the filament extrudes using our filament extruder.

Extruding Z-ULTRAT 3D Printing Filament

failed-prints
Failed prints used for testing.

Pre-Conditions

The Regular NEXT 1.0 was used for the tests, and was set to 220 °C across all three sections. The purpose for using the regular extruder as opposed to the Advanced version, is due to the extrusion screw of the model. It has been previously observed that the Regular screw, lacking the pineapple mixing station, is generating more pressure. Better nozzle flow is a result of this.

The machine is pre-loaded with HDPE. This is to ensure the extrusion barrel and screw are clean and performing at an optimum level upon receiving the Zortrax ABS. In order to remove all contaminants, the machine was left to run HDPE for an hour. The filament was added after this step.

Results

Numerous tests were completed using different settings in order to achieve industry-standard results. Below is a graph showing off the stability over time:

filament-thickness
Filament thickness results over time after extrusion.

In the end, the filament became stable at: 1- 275 / 2- 280 / 3 – 270 at speeds of 5rpm.

before-and-after
Left to right: shredded filament into the extruder, final result of the Z-ULTRAT

The filament produced better results after changing the speed to 5rpm, with only slight deviations (still within 100 microns) over 35-40 minutes. As a result, the test was a success. This was because a thickness of 1.75mm is not easy to extrude, as more control is needed. Also noted that ABS is harder to extrude when compared to other filaments such as PLA.

Conclusion

robotic-arm
Zortrax Robotic Arm printed using the M200.

The Zortrax range of 3D printers and filaments offer fantastic end results. Mechanical parts, casing elements for testing and even consumer and educational product prototypes – all are possible, with complimentary colours to go with. Furthermore, you have the option of recycling your prints after you are done. This means both businesses and printing enthusiasts alike will be able to take full advantage of these great products.

Testing PAEK – Is It Any Good?

Here at 3Devo, we really enjoying testing a variety of different filaments. Last week we were about to test some PAEK. As you may or may not know, PAEK is a family of semi-crystalline thermoplastics with high-temperature stability and high mechanical strength. We were lucky enough to test some AvaSpire AV-621 from Solvay (provided by ALBIS PLASTIQUE France). Catchy name, but is it any good? This article will cover all you need to know about PAEK, and how it performed in our tests.
_

General Information

 

Image 3devo – PAEK material provided by ALBIS Plastique France

As mentioned PAEK, or polyaryletherketone, is a family of semi-crystalline thermoplastics. In this family you will find:

  • Polyetherketone (PEK)
  • Polyetheretherketone (PEEK)
  • Polyetherketoneketone (PEKK)
  • Polyetheretherketoneketone (PEEKK)
  • Polyetherketoneetherketoneketone (PEKEKK)

Polyaryletherketone (PAEK) was first prepared in the early 1970s, but results and the overall process was somewhat limited. PEEK was the first thermoplastic to go large scale in 1977, where ICI used polyetherification reactions to create the polymer. In 1981, Victrex of Lancashire, England, introduced PEEK resins commercially. Next came PEK, introduced by BASF AG, the large German plastics company, which attempted to gain the total market share, eventually stopping all production of PEKEKK resins. This left Victrex as the only supplier of PEK resins in the world.

In the end, PEEK’s growth rates started to soar, mainly due to its high mechanical strength and chemical resistance. From vehicles, to aircrafts, to most electronics and medical applications, more and more suppliers started to enter the market. These suppliers include:

Below is a list of some of the advantages and disadvantages of using PAEK:

Advantages

  • Highly fire-resistant
  • Good chemical resistance
  • Can be used for high temperature applications
  • Excellent mechanical and dielectric properties

Disadvantages

  • Relatively high cost material
  • Anisotropic
  • High temperature molding and extrusion required

 

Tests

In our first attempt to create PAEK filament we used the AV-621 NT grade produced by AvaSpire with a melting point of 340°C, which we pre-dried at 150°C for 4 hours. The first step in the extrusion process was using PX2 cleaning purge (with a temperature range of 280-420°C) as a transition material, in order to be able to raise the temperature of all heaters to 380°C.

paek-test-1
Filling up the NEXT TEST Advanced Extruder, then running the test

The first thing we noticed while extruding with an overall temperature of 380°C, was the large amount of air bubbles in the filament. This could mean two things, either the granulate was not dry enough, or the overall temperature is too high. Lowering the overall temperature by 10°C improved the quality a lot, but now we faced nozzle lip buildup as you can see in the picture below:

paek-test-3
Nozzle lip buildup

Some polymers tend to have this problem, and it causes major surface roughness of the filament. In this case, the buildup was reduced by increasing the temperature of the front heater.

paek-test-4
A little rough around the edges

In the end we managed to create a spool of PAEK with a filament thickness of 1.75mm, but the surface of the filament was still on the rough side. This means we will keep on looking for better settings of the Next Advanced Extruder, but at least the machine has now proved its ability to create PAEK filament. This adds up in the list of successfully tested high-end polymers, along with materials such as PEEK and PEKK.

All You Need to Know About PEKK

Here at 3Devo we really enjoy trying out new polymers. Most of them have different functions and qualities that make them unique. This week we had a look at PEKK, or Polyetherketoneketone. This semicrystalline polymer, shows off both a sound structural performance in high temperature and a strong chemical resistance. These positive qualities make it very useful in various fields, from medicine to aerospace.

Before 2011, PEKK’s main use was for the production of thermoplastic composites. It was sold in limited quantities to a few small compounding companies. These companies offered PEKK in various melting processes, as well as other specialty and composite processes. However, in 2011, Arkema began industrial PEKK production making it more accessible, so let us take a closer look into what makes this polymer so unique.

Overview

PEKK, the multi-use polymer (image via ptonline)
  • PEKK is a part of the High Performance of Polyaryletherketone (PAEK) polymer family.
  • Glass transition temperature of 162°C (323.6°F)
  • The melting temperature for the PEKK homo-polymer is around 400°C
  • Slow crystallization rate
  • Manufacturers and distributors: ArkemaVeloxRTP and Cytec
  • Brand names: Kepstan and RTP

PEEK vs PEKK

Unlike PEEK, PEKK displays both amorphous and crystalline material properties. This makes PEKK quite interesting. Thanks to its unique mechanical, physical and chemical properties, PEKK lends itself to a broader range of uses than PEEK:

  • Up to 80% greater compression strength than PEEK
  • Wider processing window of parameters than PEEK

Unique Qualities

  • High strength and toughness
  • Chemical resistance
  • Easy processing
  • Lower moulded-in stresses
  • Greater dimensional stability
  • Remains transparent even at higher operating temperatures
  • Improved flow characteristics (due to an extremely slow rate of crystallisation)

According to Tim Spahr of Arkema’s Corporate Research in North America, “These properties allow for lower processing temperatures and the ability to process the Kepstan® 6000 Series (one of their products) copolymers polymers as either amorphous or semi-crystalline structures, depending on processing technologies and cooling conditions.” He also added, “They can be injection molded and extruded as an amorphous polymer without the need for quenching.”

Real-world Applications

Medical

A patient-specific OsteoFab cranial implant 3D-printed by OPM. (Image courtesy of OPM.)

Oxford Performance Materials, always popular with their advances in developing of applications, are now using PEKK to improve infections related to artificial hips, knees, and other implanted devices. In February 2014, OPM became the first company to receive FDA clearance. This was for the manufacturing of patient-specific 3D printed polymeric implants for a line of cranial prosthesis as shown above.

Aerospace

The 3D manufactured part — a black bracket holding the instrument’s fiber-optic cables (Image courtesy of NASA)

NASA is also not wanting to be left out of the 3D-printing world. They of course have many projects that involve 3D printing, but last year a 3D printed part received a lot of attention as part of their latest ICESat-2 project. The project aims to examine and measure changes in ice-sheet elevations, sea-ice thicknesses, and global vegetation in Greenland and the Antarctic. Stratasys had to develop a bracket for this project for the sole purpose of space travel. PEKK made its debut in space as part of the satellite, allowing for this central bracket component to be only the second 3D printed part to go into space so far.

Military

Military uses can be plentiful thanks to its robust structure (image via 3dprint.com)

The military will also be using PEKK’s heat and chemical resistance and its ability to withstand heavy mechanical weights for various uses out in the field. For example, a plastic guard that prevents light emitted from a flashlight from exposing a soldier’s location.

Our Tests with PEKK

We decided to use a bag of the Kepstan® 6000 series copolymers, as it offers offer a low melting point and has a slow crystallization rate. We used the Kepstan 6001 PF variant.

Kepstan 6001 PF powder

Like PEEK, the transition material played a key role throughout the PEKK extrusion process.

Extruding the filament on the Advanced Level Extruder

This time we used a different high temperature purging compound: Asaclean PX2 grade (280 Celcius up to 420 Celcius), to reach the desired temperature range for PEKK (330 Celcius up to 345 Celcius).

The finished result!

By pressure feeding the PEKK powder in the hopper of the Advanced Level Extruder, the cooling fans at 30% and the screw speed at 7RPM, we had a good time with the unique filament. Successfully we extruded 2.85mm, which will be tested any time soon by one of our clients. PEKK offers a lot of advantages to say PEEK or other polymers, but it truly stands out in real-world applications. Hopefully more industry sectors can see the potential of this useful polymer.

Polystyrene – The Multi-Purpose 3D-Printing Filament

What is Polystyrene?

First of all, polystyrene (PS) is a thermoplastic. General-purpose polystyrene is clear, hard, and rather brittle. It comes in two forms: a rigid foam material and a typical solid plastic (i.e foam or solid). First discovered in 1839 by Eduard Simon, an apothecary from Berlin, it was dubbed styrol. It then evolved over years. After about 80 years later, macromolecules were discovered when styrol was heated via a chain reaction thanks to German organic chemist Hermann Staudinger. Eventually, this led to the substance receiving its present name, polystyrene.

Dow Chemical Company then invented a proprietary process to make their trademarked and well-known PS foam product “styrofoam” in 1941. Throughout the years, though, the thermoplastic has not been the most favourable in environmental organisations (due to its slow degrading process). It is not hard to deny this fact too, as almost anyone can walk outside and see some form of polystyrene trash on the ground.

Discarded polystyrene cup, one of the more unpopular uses of the material

To make polystyrene, distillation of hydrocarbon fuels is need to create lighter groups called “fractions”. Some of which are combined with other catalysts to produce plastics.  As a result, the polymerization process creates the PS we all know today. However, it does come in many forms. Much like other plastics, such as PETG and TPU, it also has a whole range of uses.

Commons Types and Uses

Many people first think of the soft objects polystyrene is used for (such as cups or packaging), but it is actually seen in many other forms:

Sheet or molded polystyrene

CD Case made from polystyrene

Objects here are usually created using thermoforming (vacuum forming) or injection molding:

  • Disposable plastic cutlery and dinnerware
  • CD cases
  • Smoke detector housing
  • License plate frames
  • Petri dishes
  • Test tubes

Foams

The foam type is great for packaging.

Polystyrene foams are good thermal insulators and are therefore often used as:

  • Building insulation materials
  • Ornamental pillars
  • Packaging

Expanded polystyrene (EPS)

How would be ship electronics without it?

Expanded polystyrene (EPS) is a rigid and tough, closed-cell foam. It is usually white and made of pre-expanded beads, therefore it makes sense to see it in objects like:

  • Trays, plates and bowls
  • Fish boxes

Extruded polystyrene foam

Extruded polystyrene foam (XPS) consists of closed cells, and is most commonly seen in crafts and model building.

 

Common Characteristics

Generally Polystyrene (PS) is an amorphous, glassy polymer that is generally rigid and relatively inexpensive. Unfilled polystyrene has a sparkle appearance and is often referred to as crystal PS or general purpose polystyrene (GPPS). High impact polystyrene grades (HIPS) is produced by adding rubber or butadiene copolymer. Therefore, this increases the toughness and impact strength of the polymer. Other qualities include:

  • High surface qualities
  • Generally non-toxic and odorless
  • Good electric insulator
  • Flammable
  • Shock-resistance
  • Good pressing results
  • Ideal for thermoforming
  • Polished or mat surface
  • Approved for food-contact (although some studies have reported “potential health impacts from polystyrene foam food packaging associated with its production)

 

Advantages and Disadvantages

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Readily available
  • White in colour
  • Easy to sand, glue, cut and paint

Cons

  • Flammable, but retarded grades available
  • Inert (i.e. doesn’t react particularly well with either acidic or basic solutions)
  • Poor solvent resistance, attacked by many chemicals
  • Homopolymers are brittle
  • Subject to stress and environmental cracking
  • Poor thermal stability

 

Extruding and 3D Printing

We over at 3devo decided to try out extruding some polystyrene thanks to the NEXT 1.0 filament extruder.

 

Top Left: PS granules used. Top Right: The PS granules in the hopper. Bottom Left: PS filament being extruded with the NEXT 1.0. Bottom Right: The finished filament!

You can email sales@3devo.com for more information about this testing. As a result, the completed filament was a great success, very easy to extrude thanks to the aircooling (via the fans) to keep it from overheating. Below is a short video of the whole process:

But what about 3D printing using PS? Well, High Impact Polystyrene (HIPS) is great for this. This is s a tough durable material, similar to the popular ABS. While it may not be the cheapest option, it does use Limonene as a solvent. The result is a slightly lemon-like smell to the finished product. The heater element of your 3D printer needs to be controlled quite finely with this material otherwise there will be a fair degree of warping as the hot material is placed on the cooling layer. But, you should be good with printing smaller parts though, as the speed of printing should be just fine to prevent warping.

3D Printing with HIPS (via Vexmatech)

In the end, polystyrene is a very interesting thermoplastic. With quite a range of characteristics and uses, it’s easy to see why it has become so popular. And, although it’s so similar to say ABS, its positive qualities such as its good impact resistance and ease of finishing make it a strong contender against the other plastics out there.