Additive Manufacturing / 3D printing technology
A Portuguese company skilled in additive manufacturing at the forefront of this technology developed an innovative and tailor-made 3D printing equipment to quickly and cheaply prototype components/complex geometry items, in high performance materials such as PEEK, Polyether ether ketone. This equipment was designed to work under micro gravity environment, and thus is capable of 3D printing in very demanding conditions.
Additive Manufacturing (AM) is an appropriate name to describe the technologies that build 3D objects by adding layer-upon-layer of material, whether the material is plastic, metal, ceramic or other. Common to the different AM technologies is the use of a computer, 3D modelling software (Computer Aided Design or CAD), printing equipment and layering material. Once a CAD sketch is produced, the AM equipment reads in data from the CAD file and lays down or adds successive layers of printing material. In this case, the raw material is a polymer filament that flows from a spool into an extruder. The extruder melts the polymer to the exact consistency that is needed to be deposited according to the design and to keep the technical characteristics.
This technology allows the use of High Performance Materials that may be useful in many fields, such as:
(1) Industrial and aeronautics, for producing small batches of demanding parts with complex designs with reduced height advantages;
(2) Medical, for tools, containers or even functional parts made of bio-compatible materials;
(3) Electronic, when dropping the filament with other particles like graphene, it can be used in embedded electronic systems.
Additionally, and as one of the main advantages of this technology is the ability to work under microgravity environment.
Innovations & Advantages
The main advantage of the technology developed for space compared to the commercial printers in the market is the ability to produce parts with mechanical properties similar to the moulding injection technic.
On Earth, it prints perfectly in an upside-down position and other angles.
Furthermore, it offers the capability to:
(1) optimize geometries and create designs tailored to the environmental constraints,
(2) less waste generation during manufacturing,
(3) offers recycling possibilities, and
(4) allows to manufacture parts on-demand reducing its cost, volume, and up-mass constraints.
Current and Potential Domains of Application
3D printing spare parts and tools in ISS.
(1) Aerospace - PEEK meets the incredible demands of the aerospace industry, including a major focus on weight reduction and minimal electromagnetic interference, which also makes it an attractive option for aerospace applications. Thermal isolators, structures, screws and hoses are all examples of PEEK components that get heavy use in the aerospace industry.
(2) Medical and life Science – PEEK provides high resistance to sterilization, inertness and transparency to x-ray machines which is essential to many medical and scientific procedures. Is also used extensively in electrical motors, particularly those built into small surgical instruments. Implant grade PEEK is found in dental products, and is also used in the spacers built into spinal implants. PEEK is also used in analytical instruments supporting the life sciences.
(3) Oil&gas – Since PEEK can handle the pressure and heat, it is a popular option in valve seats, connector bodies, seals, flappers, frac balls and compressor valve components. To provide additional pressure resistance, materials are reinforced with glass and carbon, which prevents instability at extreme pressures.
(4) Electronics and Semiconductors - Semiconductors and computing chips are produced in environments that most materials cannot withstand. With its excellent strength at extreme temperatures and corrosive resistance, PEEK is ideal for the manufacturing of test sockets designed for automated testing, wafer handling tools used for chemical washing, chip nests and ferrules used in plasma etching.