3D4Makers, a Dutch filament producer founded by father and son Jan-Peter and Jasper Wille, has dedicated itself to changing and improving how 3D printing filaments are produced. With experience in the raw plastics industry and a grasp on additive manufacturing technologies, 3D4Makers’ founders knew that they could bring something different to the table for filaments. Something that they proved early on when they introduced a entirely new filament extrusion method, which does away with the water-cooling steps used by most producers.
More recently, the Netherlands-based company has demonstrated its keen understanding of the AM industry with the release of high performance, engineering filaments, such as PEEK, PEI and its advanced Facilan materials. Just last week, 3D4Makers announced it is partnering with chemicals company Perstorp AB to launch ElogioAM, a new company which offers new material solutions for advancing the 3D printing industry.
Joris Peels, a 3D printing industry expert and a member of the 3D4Makers team, spoke to us recently about the company’s offerings, the state of the filament market and the rise of high performance engineering materials.
Tess Boissonneault: Can you describe how 3D4Maker’s unique filament production process affects filament quality?
Joris Peels: We designed our process specifically to make filament for 3D printing and this leads to us having more control over how it is produced. We also customize the production line that we built per type of material. We don’t cool with water so this means that moisture is not added to the filament during production. Instead, our cooling process is tightly controlled to obtain better results. Higher purity, better tolerances and smoother 3D printed parts are some effects.
Additionally, several customers have tested our materials and concluded that we have higher Z direction strength than competing materials. This means that a part 3D printed with a 3D4Makers PEEK Q grade, for example, will outperform a filament made by someone else, even if they use the same polymer, the same grade and the same additives.
Better layer adhesion also improves the optical quality of the part. Because we control the process more, we don’t need additives often. Two of our materials have them, but the rest are pure materials (apart from colourants, of course). With less variables in the material, companies and researchers can feel more confident in what they’re using. We also have high tolerances on diameter and roundness which helps avoid stoppages and misprints.
TB: As higher grade filaments come to market, do you see more mainstream filaments like ABS and PLA eventually going by the wayside?
JP: There’s a lot of inertia in PLA and ABS, so people will probably continue to use them to some degree. For manufacturing, more functional materials outperform them and these will be created and displace bulk plastics and nonfunctional filaments. Our manufacturing customers are asking for particular grades of PC, PEEK, PEI, PA and other materials because this fits in with their certifications or the demands of their particular industry and applications.
Having said that, tweaked and more functional versions of PLA and ABS can totally be improved and continue to add value to some customers. What we’re leading is a move away from nonfunctional materials.
We’re looking at what customers are making, what performance they want, what characteristics, what qualities. Based on that we make materials that conform to their requirements. Or we take a material that is desired because of its properties and turn it into a filament for a particular end use part or application. What drives us is the desire to make 3D printing using open FDM printers a viable manufacturing technology. For that, new materials must be created that are functional, that are spec. Bizarrely we’re the only people doing this.
TB: 3D4Makers recently released what it calls the “first fifth generation filament” with Perstorp. Can you describe what being a fifth generation material entails?
JP: Fifth generation filaments are filaments that have been designed and developed to enable the successful manufacturing of a part using 3D printing according to a predefined specification. For instance, I want part X, size Y, qualities Z on Tuesday times 1000 and this part has to be UL V0. They are materials made for manufacturing with 3D printing.
With our Ortho material, for example, we work with people wearing orthopaedic shoes, the doctors prescribing them, the people fitting them, the people making them and all the companies in that value chain. We then develop a 3D printing material that will meet their needs for manufacturing orthotics, insoles and other similar parts such as braces. So we go to the drawing board once we have the information on needs and how these shoes have to perform and then we look for the right material that can be turned into the correct filament for that application.
TB: Do you have any indication what the next generation of materials will be?
JP: If we look at sixth generation filament, then it would have to match increased awareness by engineers and designers for what 3D printing can do—things like internal topology optimization. Another thing that you can do with 3D printing is for each and every part to have a completely dynamic gradient infill that can alter the performance of the part in novel ways. For example, a car part could be constructed to implode or break away easily in one direction or could perform with a particular vibration, movement, path. A car window assembly could be made to be super strong from all impact on the outside but weak from impact on the inside.
Design for end of life will also play a roll, with filaments being made to be recycled easily for a particular new part. For instance, we know that in twenty years this aircraft partition wall will be turned into this EndDesign Vitra desk and fifty years later it can become a filament. If we sketch out and agree on that cradle to cradle to part path with all partners then we can design the material to be the best for that application.
TB: So plastic waste is becoming a bigger consideration?
JP: Polymer companies are the solution to plastic waste. Their future lies in a material as a service proposition that eliminates plastic in the oceans but gives every one of us the functionality we need from our versatile plastics. More fundamentally, however, companies need to be incentivized to adopt the mindset that circular materials are not just something to put on your website, but rather the future of the business.
With that in mind, these materials will probably be better in labelling quality on all sides, print smoother, withstanding differences in print orientation and will probably have to do this at far higher speeds than we are seeing now. Additionally, I’d hope they were more environmentally friendly, and know that higher heat deflection and smoothness are always going to be important to customers. A concrete example of a sixth generation material does not yet exist, but higher strength than PEEK with better labelling, processing and crystallization on the fly—which I’ve been working on for several years and would allow people to determine material properties at the time of printing—would do a lot of people nicely.