Italian 3D printing company 3ntr presented its new Spectral 30 3D printer at Formnext 2018. The machine, built to process high performance polymers such as PEEK, ULTEM and PPSU, has been in development for some time through the EU-backed Clean Sky project, a wide-reaching research program aimed at developing new, eco-friendlier technologies. The Spectral project is also being realized in collaboration with French research group Rescoll, which has been tasked with developing filaments and support materials for the Spectral platform.
The unveiling of the Spectral 30 3D printer by 3ntr this past November marks an exciting step ahead for high performance polymer 3D printing, which is finding applications in various industries, including aerospace. Notably, 3ntr developed the 3D printer according to specifications put out by aerospace giant Airbus to facilitate the adoption of its technology in the sector.
“Spectral 30 came into being two years ago with the idea of creating a new model of printer able to print aerospace-grade polymers, like PEEK, ULTEM and PPSU, in the correct way,” 3ntr founder Davide Ardizzoia told us. “We put all of our capacities and knowledge in this project so that we could create a reliable and truly productive machine.”
In order to process high performance polymers, the Spectral 30 3D printer is equipped with a heated print chamber that can reach temperatures of up to 240°C, much higher than the temperature required to easily print materials such as ABS. Interestingly, 240°C is actually higher than the required temperature needed for processing PEEK filaments—which is around 150°C to 160°C.
The high heat chamber, Ardizzoia explains, was chosen so that manufacturers could not only process existing high performance polymers, but also experiment with others down the line.
“We want to give our clients the chance to manage polymers in the future,” he said. “With this kind of approach, it is possible to obtain printed parts that are much more resistant than usual. Thus, commercializing a machine that allows for experimentation and post-printing treatments at a higher temperature could offer a strategic advantage within certain fields, especially aerospace and automotive.
“With Spectral 30, we aim to offer super polymers to a broader audience—to the majority of small and medium-sized enterprises. Because, especially in Italy, that is where value is created, since it’s the backbone of economics.”
In line with this, the Spectral 30 was designed to process third party materials, meaning that manufacturers can experiment with new polymers or work with their preferred brands of high performance filaments.
“Having machines with an open approach that are safe and powerful allows polymer manufacturers, research bodies and advanced end users to research with more ease and accuracy,” Ardizzoia added. “Another aspect that we are focused on is the interoperability of these systems. When printing, it is crucial to have as much information as possible to incorporate this machine into the industrial manufacturing process, mostly when it comes to quality control and decreasing defects. That’s why we’ve also integrated sensors into the printer, to be able to collect as much data as possible.”
The Spectral 30 unit unveiled at Formnext 2018 is just the beginning, the 3ntr founder told us, adding that other models in the Spectral line are in development. “Spectral 30 is our first machine with everything incorporated in a single monolith: the polymer drying unit, the printing server and the outward network interface.”
Forthcoming 3D printers will integrate increasingly sophisticated nozzles and larger build volumes (the Spectral 30 boasts four extruders and a build volume of 300 x 300 x 300 mm). In developing the Spectral 30, 3ntr also placed an importance on automation by incorporating automatic extruder calibration, alignment and Z offsets.
“We conceived this machine to bring additive to a broader range of users,” Ardizzoia continued, speaking about possible applications for the Spectral 30 3D printer. “For us, aerospace is the easiest target because it’s a market that is already quite receptive; they know why they need to use certain polymers and they already have extensive experience using them. Nonetheless, we do not want to restrict ourselves to this sector and we aim to offer our solution to the industry in wider terms.
“Aerospace polymers have some outstanding toughness but they are not currently used in many industrial sectors because of their high costs. If we manage to give our interlocutors the possibility to reach a better production at more reasonable costs, we could make our clients more competitive and could create business and employment opportunities.”
Though the 3D printer was unveiled at Formnext, the Spectral 30 is not quite ready for the market yet. Presently, 3ntr is undergoing final tests and parameter optimization for the high performance 3D printer and expects it to launch as soon as April 2019. The cost of the upcoming 3D printer has not been revealed but we do know that when they set out to develop the technology, 3ntr and its partners had the goal of it costing less than €300,000.