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Where Is AM Polymer Material Development Headed?

Kevin McAlea
By Kevin McAlea Chief Operating Officer, Nexa3D
The expansion of high-performance polymers and advancements in 3D-printing techniques will continue to drive innovation and growth in AM. (Provided by Nexa3D)

3D-printing technology has come a long way since its inception, and the development of new polymer materials has played a crucial role in its growth. With advances in polymer science and engineering—not to mention increased investment by major materials manufacturers—the potential applications of 3D printing are becoming increasingly diverse and innovative. Here are some trends to look for in additive manufacturing (AM) polymer development in 2023:

Sustainable Polymers

An ever-increasing awareness of environmental impact will drive the use of sustainable polymers this year. AM already has a major benefit of producing less waste than subtractive while enabling greener, local, on-demand workflows. But biodegradable polymers or recyclable polymers can provide further ecological benefit. Biodegradable polymers can be broken down by natural processes, and are therefore more environmentally friendly than traditional petroleum-based plastics. Recyclable polymers, along with technologies to reuse them in AM, could be equally beneficial in reducing the carbon footprint of manufacturing in 2023.

Expanding Range of High-Performance Polymers

Another trend in AM polymer material is the development of high-performance polymers. These materials are designed to be stronger, stiffer, and more durable than traditional 3D-printing materials, making them ideal for a wide range of applications, including aerospace, automotive, and medical devices.

The advancement of these materials in both thermoplastic and photopolymer form is moving quickly thanks to companies such as BASF and Henkel, which have invested heavily in the space over the past five years, and we’re seeing more and more examples of real production being onshored for that reason—not to mention the growth of high-speed or “ultrafast” 3D printers. Additionally, polymers are being composited to further drive part performance. While metal is slowly making its way to more accessible levels, it still has a long way to go in terms of dimensional accuracy and post-processing requirements to be readily adopted for mainstream applications. Polymers, on the other hand, continue to advance and become extremely accessible and affordable to use with high levels of accuracy and a low learning curve.

Advanced Printing Techniques for Polymer Materials

Finally, in 2023, we can expect to see advances in the printing techniques used to produce 3D objects from polymer materials. This may include the development of new printing methods, such as multimaterial printing, which will allow for the creation of more complex and functional objects. It may also include the use of advanced software to optimize printing processes alongside newer, faster hardware with significantly greater throughput, making 3D printing much more competitive with traditional manufacturing methods.

The development of AM polymer materials is headed in an exciting direction. With the rise of sustainable polymers, the expansion of high-performance polymers, and advancements in 3D-printing techniques, we can expect to see continued innovation and growth in this field. These developments will further broaden the potential applications of 3D printing and make it an even more versatile and powerful tool for businesses and consumers alike.

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