Digital manufacturing company Protolabs is launching a polypropylene (PP) 3D printing service in Europe. The new capability will cater to Europe-based designers and engineers looking for a rapid way to prototype complex parts using selective laser sintering and PP material.
Polypropylene is a common thermoplastic material used for a wide range of applications, including packaging and storage. Typically, the material is processed using more traditional manufacturing processes, such as CNC Machining or injection molding, and has been challenging to 3D print because of significant warping. Recently, however, there has been a push to adapt the material for AM processes so that end-users can benefit from its mechanical properties.
“Polypropylene is one of the most used plastics available to modern manufacturers and is widely used for a number of applications,” explained Andrea Landoni, 3D printing product manager for Protolabs. “Until recently you could only use 3D printed polypropylene-like materials that mimicked this plastic, but they did not have all of the same properties and were not as durable.
“Now that we can cost effectively produce a prototype in polypropylene, design engineers can develop and test it in an application using the same material that it will be manufactured from. The product design can then be quickly reiterated and retested until they have the perfect solution, before they commit to tooling.”
The ability to 3D print polypropylene using SLS 3D printing opens up a number of new application opportunities because of the design freedom afforded by AM. For instance, internal geometries, such as honeycomb structures, can be integrated into prototypes or parts to reduce weight while maintaining strength.
Landoni added: “Before if you wanted to use polypropylene then you were limited in what you could design by the manufacturing technology available to you. Now the only limitation is your imagination.”
To support its new PP 3D printing service, Protolabs will also offer its more traditional injection molding and CNC machining processes. In certain cases, a more traditional approach could be more beneficial to a customer than AM. As Landoni said: “We can give you unbiased advice on which is best to use because we offer all three manufacturing technologies.”
The new polypropylene 3D printing service offered by Protolabs for the European market will provide end-to-end support: Protolabs will work with clients from early prototyping stages all the way to ensuring that the final part design is ready for mass production.
“In an age where speed to market really counts, Protolabs can cut down the lead time for a new product or part from initial concept right through to final manufacture,” concluded Landoni. “With this new service we can help manufacturers get new polypropylene products to market weeks or even months earlier than before.”