PEEK filament could be the next step for industrial 3D printing

In the world of 3D printing, two filaments reign supreme: Polylactic Acid (PLA) and Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS). While we could full a feature-length story debating the benefits and pitfalls of the two, what’s important now is that a new player has entered the game in the form of Polyether Ether Ketone (PEEK) from the German company Indmatec.

PEEK has existed for years and been utilised in engineering for components used in cars, planes and even medical implants.

According to Indmatec, PEEK has several properties which make it a serious contender for the filament crown. A melting point of 343°C makes it much more resistant to heat when compared to the melting points of PLA and ABS (which are 180-220 ° C and 220-235 ° C respectively). PEEK is also a semiconductor and is water- and steam-resistant, which only increases its number of uses.

Strength is another one of the material’s, well, strong points. It is up to 50% the strength of steel, while ABS can only manage 10%.

Peek granules as well as printed gears.

PEEK granules as well as printed gears.

Due to the unique properties of the material, Indmatec is (currently) the only company in the world that has managed to process PEEK, as well as the only place to get the special filament and the printer to use. The company only finalised the PEEK fillament in January of this year.

The “Indmatec PEEK Printer”  can print using high-temperature polymer filaments and is specially designed to use PEEK. The company promises that the printer can get going with one click and it’s priced below “comparable production techniques”, those being subtractive process such as milling. To heat up this resistant material, the hot end of the printer gets up to a scorching 420°C.

Unfortunately, due to the special properties of this filament, regular 3D printers cannot be retrofitted to utilise it. Inversely,  Indmatec is working on a way for their printer to accept other, non-PEEK filaments.

“The unique properties make PEEK very attractive for high-performance use. Simply said, it’s a material that combines a lot of properties. You would need either a weird mixture of metals (which is either very expensive or doesn’t even exist) or an extremely expensive metal like platinum (even though PEEK exceeds platinum in some ways, key point [it’s] bio-compatible),” said Uwe Popp, head of the laboratory at Indmatec. “Another scope of application of PEEK is low-volume/high-value production. It is simply not worth it, or [it will be] very expensive to produce high-value parts that have high requirements with metals, due to loss of material or high production cost due to the low-volume production. For example, screws that come to use in aerospace technology, or replacement parts which are no longer produced.”

At the moment, PEEK is being used to create test production parts such as engine wheels, screws and plates. The next goal for Indmatec is to get their product certified for pharmaceutical projects, with implants being an early focus.

[Source & images – Indmatec]

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