Additive manufacturing Aim 3D material qualification study shows promise for high performance 3D printing

Source: Aim 3D Reading Time: 4 min

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Aim 3D's new material qualification study on the Exam 510 system reveals promising advancements in 3D printing using Ultem 9085 resin pellets. With potential cost savings up to a factor of seven and increased build speeds, the technology aims to disrupt traditional filament-based 3D printing, particularly in high-performance sectors like aerospace.

Tensile test setup
Tensile test setup
(Source: Aim 3D)

As part of its material qualification efforts, Aim 3D conducted an analysis on the Exam 510 system using Ultem 9085 resin, aiming to explore its applicability in pellet 3D printing. The company's Composite Extrusion Modelling (CEM) process seeks to offer an alternative to traditional filament 3D printers by using standard pellets. The goal is to take advantage of the generally lower material costs associated with standard granulate compared to conventional filament materials. Aim 3D claims that the price advantage could be as much as a factor of seven. The development primarily targets high-performance applications, specifically in the aerospace industry.

Previously, 3D printers using Ultem 9085 resin in filament form have been prevalent, with market leaders including Stratasys, Intamsys, 3DGence, and Materialise, among others. These companies employ fused filament fabrication (FFF) processes. The use of standard granulate Ultem 9085 Resin could provide cost savings, which Aim 3D's Exam 510 system is designed to utilize. Key aspects of the material qualification included an assessment of process reproducibility and the mechanical properties of the resulting 3D-printed components.

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Ultem 9085 Resin from Sabic is an aerospace-certified material with specialized fire-resistant properties. It belongs to the PEI (polyetherimide) family of high-temperature materials and is known for its strength-to-weight ratio, making it suitable for applications requiring high strength and low weight. The material also has high impact strength and chemical tolerance. Sabic offers Ultem 9085 Resin in various colors and customization options.

When comparing the cost of standard granules to filaments, Aim 3D's Exam 510 is designed to process standard Ultem granules, whereas traditional FFF 3D printers use filament material, which is generally more expensive. Additionally, pellet 3D printers are claimed to have higher maximum build rates compared to their filament counterparts: up to 250 cm3/h for pellet printers versus up to 45 cm3/h for filament printers. This represents a potential increase in build speed by a factor of at least 5.

Comparison of mechanical properties illustrated by tensile strengths

As part of the material qualification of Ultem 9085 resin with a 3D printing pellet system, such as the Exam 510 from Aim 3D, the tensile strengths had to be analysed. Comparative variables were filament components on the one hand and components manufactured on a granulate basis using classic injection moulding technology with moulding tools on the other. The tensile strengths were measured on the XY axis for the three processes. The highest value was achieved by injection-moulded components with 86 MPa, closely followed by 85.7 MPa with the 3D pellet printer Exam 510 from Aim 3D. A thoroughly comparable value, which clearly stood out from the filament 3D printing with 69.2 MPa. The tensile strengths on the XZ axis also showed advantages for the 3D pellet printer with 42 MPa, compared to 39 MPa measured for an FFF 3D printer. The CEM process can thus currently reproduce the best tensile strengths in 3D printing of Ultem 9085 resin. In addition, the elongation at break of the samples printed from granulate also showed significantly better results. Thus, 12.3 percent elongation at break could be achieved in the XY direction, while filament 3D printing only manages 5.4 percent.

Improving reproducibility with a 3D pellet printer

Above all, however, the reproducibility, i.e. the repeatability of the process, is decisive for the construction of a 3D component. For a user, this is a central point for consistent quality of the component, especially in small and medium series production. Injection moulding components and 3D components have comparable homogeneities of the material because granulate-Ultem 9085 Resin is used. The latest tensile tests according to DIN EN ISO 527-2 Type 1A prove high process stability due to low standard deviations.

This opens up significantly increased time-to-market potential, both for prototypes and for series components. Aim 3D's extruders and technology also achieve better surface qualities with the same build time. This is possible because the use of granulates allows higher build rates to be achieved even with lower layer thicknesses. In addition, solutions for finer nozzles below 0.4 mm are to be realised in the future, so that the spectrum for components made of Ultem 9085 resin will be expanded in the future. In addition to the advantages in terms of costs and time, the CEM process also opens up new areas of application for Ultem 9085 Resin in general. In addition to classic aerospace applications, Ultem 9085 Resin is also suitable for automotive and railway applications. In other words, wherever the highest demands are placed on the mechanical properties and a 3D component must ensure long-lasting mechanical properties under safety aspects. Dr.-Ing. Vincent Morrison: “The use of a pellet 3D printer will not only make existing applications more cost-effective in the future. Rather, we will see a much wider application of Ultem 9085 resin in the future, which were simply not economical in the past. Especially in the aerospace sector, this will open up new horizons.”

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