Victrex, a UK-based specialist in high-performance polymers, has announced a multi-million euro investment in Dutch 3D printing company Bond High Performance 3D Technology. The companies seek to accelerate the development of 3D printing technologies for high-performance PAEK materials.
It is no surprise that Bond has attracted the interest of materials company Victrex, as it has developed a differentiated additive manufacturing process capable of producing high-strength parts from existing grades of high-performance thermoplastics. The innovative AM solution, which combines hardware and software, is designed to print complex and functional parts from PAEK materials without compromising their inherent characteristics and mechanical properties.
Notably, Bond’s technology is capable of high quality printing along the Z-axis, enabling the production of isotropic parts with properties comparable to PEEK parts that have been either machined or injection molded.
The multi-million euro investment by Victrex will effectively link the company’s established materials portfolio and customer expertise with Bond’s additive manufacturing solution, paving the way for optimized 3D printed parts made from existing grades of PAEK materials.
“Our investment in Bond’s 3D technology is a logical way to accelerate 3D printed PAEK/PEEK parts to market,” commented Jakob Sigurdsson, CEO of Victrex. “We need to ensure that all the key elements, including material, process and hardware are aligned to fulfil our goal of enabling our customers to manufacture 3D printed PAEK components for critical high-performance applications. We’re not at a stage where the technology is sufficiently developed to embark on exciting development programs.”
While PEEK and PAEK are highly sought after materials because of their high strength, mechanical properties and low weights, their adoption is still relatively limited in the AM sector. Presently, only a small number of companies offer the materials in 3D printable formats and 3D printing technologies that can process the materials are still limited in number.
Together, Victrex and Bond aim to tackle challenges associated with the high-performance polymers and to mature the emerging market. Initially, the companies will focus on demonstrating the viability of Bond’s AM technology for the spine and semiconductor segments by using commercially available materials such as PEEK-OPTIMA (sold by Victrex’s medical business Invibio Biomaterial Solutions) and VICTREX PAEK thermoplastic.
As the partnership moves forward, the companies will also address potential applications for the technology in the aerospace, energy, automotive, manufacturing and engineering sectors. The appeal of using existing PEEK grades in these areas is that many already have established industry standards, making their adoption more seamless than with wholly new material grades.
A peek at production
The companies are also dedicated to showcasing how Victrex’s materials and Bond’s technology will have applications not just for functional prototyping but also for industrial production.
“We found that the market needs strong functional parts made from high-performance polymers that can be used not only for prototyping but for production,” explained Gerald Holtvlüwer, CEO of Bond High Performance 3D Technology. “With our dedicated focus on 3D printing technology for high-performance polymers, we were able to develop a technology to achieve the full strength of existing PAEK and PEEK polymers. This includes the strength in the Z-direction, which is the most difficult to achieve with high-performance polymers in general and PEEK in particular.
“We’re excited to partner with a world leader in PAEK polymer-based solutions. Victrex´s material know-how and their strong marketing and sales activities, are a perfect channel to market for us and a complement to our pioneering technology.”
Currently, Bond’s hardware and software platforms are in beta-phase, but that doesn’t mean things aren’t moving swiftly ahead. The company has a clear development plan set up that will see it upscale and install additional 3D printers later this year. At that time, it plans to move into its next development phase consisting of first part qualification and early stage production.
“Collaboration and partnerships are the key to establishing the necessary supply chain for additive manufactured PAEK parts, concluded Sigurdsson. “After focusing, as part of Innovate UK projects, on new optimized PAEK/PEEK materials, partnering with Bond is the next important stage. Their advanced technical capabilities and ambitious, innovative culture will help to meet the needs of industries that can benefit from the exceptional material properties PAEK brings, in combination with the manufacturing benefits and freedom that their AM technology offers.”