In addition to these polyamide offerings, PrimeCast 101 is a polystyrene used to produce lost patterns for plaster casting and master patterns for vacuum casting. And, with the recent introduction of PEEK HP3, the first high-performance, high-temperature thermoplastic polymer available for laser-sintering, the medical industry is exploring this material for its biocompatibility, sterilizability, tensile strength and conductivity. PEEK HP3 end-products achieve tensile strengths of up to 95 MPa (13.78 KSI) and a Young’s modulus of 4,400 MPa (640 KSI). Its excellent chemical resistance makes PEEK impervious to numerous chemicals except corrosive acids. In applications where light weight and flame resistance are critical, PEEK is a popular replacement for metal, including stainless steel and titanium.
The number of metal materials available for use with DMLS is driven in part by the medical and aerospace industries, which continue finding expanded uses for stainless steel, cobalt chrome and titanium, in particular. Toolmaking applications, as well, have driven the addition of a maraging steel.
The Near Future
Advances in commercial laser-sintering and material offerings will continue to provide improved flexibility, manufacturing rates and greater standardization of processes.
The development of PEEK HP3 suggests other plastics besides polyamides are candidates for laser-sintering. And, in theory, practically any metal that can be welded and can be delivered as a suitable powder could be considered for laser-sintering. Examination and production of these materials will be application-, industry-, and customer-driven.
Leading manufacturers are demonstrating continuing commitment to laser-sintering. In Europe, for example, a consortium of companies including Boeing, EOS, Evonik Industries and MCP HEK Tooling – joined more recently by Siemens, Stratasys, Stükerjürgen and JetAviation – is presently exploring advancements in the technology at the Direct Manufacturing Research Center (DMRC) at the University of Paderborn in Germany.
The DMRC analyzes current laser-sintering systems and the present generation of materials to establish their state of performance for build speed, powder size, uniformity and final product quality. The DMRC will move toward developing industry requirements for materials, training, and standards. These activities will strengthen and expand the adoption of laser-sintering by providing established, exacting documentation and quality requirements to global manufacturing industries, such as aerospace and medical.