Connecting with the Future:
New Materials from the Printer
FROM A TECHNOLOGICAL GIMMICK TO SERIAL PRINTING: 3D PRINTING IS CHANGING INDUSTRIAL PRODUCTION FROM THE GROUND UP. POLYMER POWDERS AND ADDITIVES FROM EVONIK ARE MAKING THIS CHANGE POSSIBLE.
The implantation of an artificial knee joint is one of the most frequently performed orthopedic operations. In Germany alone, approximately 165,000 operations of this kind are performed every year. They are challenging for surgeons, because every individual is different. As a result, implanting a prosthesis requires precise customization. To make sure a new knee joint fits perfectly, surgeons use a whole array of tools, including small plastic guides for directing a surgical drill. Thanks to these guides, the surgeon can place with extreme precision the holes for the screws that connect the artificial knee joint with the patient’s bones. Today these drilling aids are more and more frequently coming from a 3D printer.
“Industrial production is undergoing a radical change. Medical technology is one of the first markets where 3D printing is being used to produce large batch sizes. That’s because this is an area where the new technology can fully exploit its strengths,” says Sylvia Monsheimer, an expert on the new 3D printing technologies at Evonik. 3D printing is clean, fast, and innovative. What’s more, if the result is not optimal, the data set is simply changed and the piece is printed out again. In the field of medical technology, this is a huge advantage. Evonik offers several polymers and additives for a variety of 3D printing processes.
Market researchers expect the global market for 3D printing to grow by 25 percent annually in the period until 2020. In 2016 the sales for 3D printing totaled about $7 billion, but in just the next four years it may grow to as much as $17 billion. This development is being driven by technological progress: 3D printers are becoming increasingly powerful and capable of processing gigantic data volumes. In addition, the range of materials that are suitable for 3D printing is growing. “We are supporting the growth of the market for 3D printing by expanding our capacities, developing new products, and forming partnerships,” says Matthias Kottenhahn, who heads the High Performance Polymers Business Line at Evonik.
Medical technology, aerospace, automobile production—all of these industries use components made of high-quality plastics. Usually the raw material, such as a plastic granulate, is first melted and then poured or pressed into a mold with a predetermined shape. It is then reworked with the help of special tools.
In 3D printing, this final step is not necessary. The process doesn’t require the use of tools. On the basis of a digital three-dimensional construction plan, the plastic is poured layer by layer onto a surface area. The experts call 3D printing an “additive process.” Within a short period of time, the process creates a three-dimensional object that precisely corresponds to the digital specifications—and can be used right away.
Evonik’s polyamide 12 (PA 12) makes the Group one of the leading global suppliers of powders for 3D printing. These powders, which Evonik sells under the name VESTOSINT®, are perfectly adapted to the various 3D printing technologies. They are produced at the company’s location in Marl, Germany, by means of a special process that was developed in-house at Evonik. The Group is currently expanding its production capacity for VESTOSINT® by 50 percent annually. Plans call for the new production line to go into operation at the end of this year. In addition, Evonik is systematically expanding its product range for 3D printing by adding new materials and types of powder.
And since the summer of 2016 Evonik is also participating in the open development platform for new 3D printing materials that was created by the IT company HP Inc. in the USA. Evonik expects that this participation will result in a further wave of development for additive production technologies. In the second quarter of 2017, Evonik will be the first materials producer to launch a certified product for innovative 3D printing technology in the program.