Today almost every structural component is designed on a computer as a digital model. 3D printing makes it possible to realize these draft versions almost directly by means of a mouse click—without having to first go to the trouble of producing molds or retooling machines. Instead, objects are created right away, layer by layer, in the desired form.
Today almost any material, from ceramics to metal and concrete, can be printed. Even food and living cells have been printed experimentally. The most multifaceted and most frequently used plastic for 3D printing is polyamide. Evonik produces high-performance polyamide 12 in powder form specially for 3D printing under the brand name VESTOSINT®. This material makes it possible to print especially robust components with extremely fine details.
The principle is always the same: A material is laid down layer by layer. In practice, however, a wide variety of processes lead to the same result. One of the most important processes is selective laser sintering (SLS). Here, a powder is melted by means of a laser, layer by layer. This produces very precisely detailed and robust components made of either plastic or metal. The high-performance plastic polyamide 12, which Evonik offers under the brand name VESTOSINT®, is ideally suited for this process. It’s a very popular material, because the components made from it are especially strong. The printer manufacturer HP, which has developed its own 3D printing process called Multi Jet Fusion™, is collaborating closely with Evonik.
This new technology combines the advantages of several different printing processes. Additives are spread selectively on a bed of powdered VESTOSINT® plastic. Under the influence of light, the additives either melt the powder or break it up. Next, the entire surface is exposed to light. This produces robust workpieces in a very short time.
In close cooperation with its customers and partners, Evonik is continuously working to ensure the highest level of product quality. The VESTOSINT® powders go through different quality management programs, such as that of EOS, a global technology leader in the field of additive manufacturing. The polyamide 12 powders are subjected to comprehensive quality assurance and documented.
The market for 3D printing is growing by leaps and bounds. Many industries are still in the initial stages of the 3D printing revolution. Nonetheless, global sales of 3D-printed products are expected to cross the €10 billion threshold for the first time as early as 2018. And sales are expected to continue growing steadily by about 25 percent annually.
Evonik is continuing to adapt its VESTOSINT® products to more and more new printers and areas of application. As a result, 3D-printed components can be used in increasingly complex applications. New plastics are also being developed. They are enabling 3D-printed engine components to stand up to extreme heat and bioresorbable implants to be used in medicine, for example.
The next step of this development is 4D printing. In this process, certain functions are programmed into the material used for 3D printing—for example, to make components that react to heat, moisture or electrical impulses by changing their shape, color or flexibility.