The Problem of Printing High-Performance Thermoplastics
PEEK (polyether ether ketone) is a semicrystalline engineering thermoplastic with exceptional strength and chemical resistance, making it suitable and highly desirable in a number of demanding, high-performance applications. PEEK is also highly resistant to temperature, with remarkable thermal stability and a melting point of around 343°C. A high melting point is generally an advantage for most applications, and is one of PEEK’s main selling points, but with 3D printing, where ptinters must melt and reform their consumables, this creates a major obstacle.
Accu can currently offer PEEK composition for a wide range of standard components within both our Precision Screws and Nuts Washers and Spacers ranges, but the hard-wearing qualities of this thermoplastic mean that these components must be machined, rather than 3D printed.
3D printing already supports an impressive selection of printable materials, including resins, plastics, and metals, but the process still has a long way to go. The range of materials available for machined components still vastly outnumbers the range available in filament form for 3D printers – this makes the qualities of specialist materials such as PEEK (particularly temperature resistance) largely unattainable using conventional 3D printers, relying instead upon more complex and expensive processes such as selective laser sintering to achieve such high temperatures.
Conventional 3D printers generally use techniques such as fused filament fabrication, which rarely exceed temperature capabilities of 300°C, but a small handful companies such as Victrex and Indmatec GmbH of Germany are in the process of developing specialist extrusion methods allowing the attainment of temperatures which can easily melt PEEK into a workable form.
Breakthroughs in the development of 3D printing methods may soon allow us to combine the simplicity and efficiency of 3D printed components with the mechanical advantages of highly specialised materials such as PEEK, and could provide much-needed solutions to a number of engineering obstacles within the automotive, oil drilling, and aerospace industries.