Sep 16, 2016 | By Alec

Even though 3D printers are being rapidly adopted by product manufacturers all around the world, 3D printing still can’t compete with many other production techniques on at least one front: material diversity. Simply put, a large number of regularly used industrial materials still aren’t 3D printable, making the technology unsuitable for various applications. But researchers from around the world are working hard on this problem, and industrial polymer giants 3M have just realized a huge material breakthrough. Through a new patent-pending technology they have successfully made fully-fluorinated PTFE polymers, a very popular industrial polymer, 3D printable.

This is a hugely important step, because PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene, a type of fluoropolymer) is an extremely useful non-conductive material that is very regularly used in products all around us. It is very hydrophobic, meaning that neither water nor water-containing substances make it wet. It also has one of the lowest friction coefficients of any solid, making it perfect for non-stick coatings for pans, catheters and various industrial applications. Bacteria and other infectious agents also have a very hard time adhering to the material, making it a very good option for various hospital applications such as the graft material used during surgical interventions.

In short, it’s a very useful material. Polymer specialist 3M, along with its subsidiaries Dyneon GmbH and Dyneon B.V., is also one of the world’s leading manufacturers of PTFE and similar materials such as fluoroelastomers and fluorothermoplastics. Other fluoropolymers are also heavily used in the oil and gas, chemical, automotive and aerospace industries, and the same 3D printing breakthrough could be applied to them.

Normally, parts made fromPTFE and other fluoropolymers are manufactured using expensive traditional processing techniques – which typically create a lot of waste and regularly have trouble creating very complex structures. 3D printing has the potential to offer a more sustainable manufacturing alternative, especially as it minimizes waste and allows unused material to be transferred to subsequent print jobs.

It’s therefore hardly surprising that 3M searched for a 3D printing solution, and M3’s Global Director of Fluoropolymers Paula Johnson-Mason revealed that their patent-pending breakthrough is already paving the way for various hitherto impossible applications. “3D printing is developing at a rapid pace and is opening up a number of exciting developments for the processing of fully-fluorinated polymers, particularly for PTFE which is a real quantum leap,” she says. “This additional new manufacturing process will give us increased flexibility and accelerate product design cycles as spare parts can be manufactured digitally without the need to create new tools”.

A selecton of non-3D printed PTFE parts.

While M3 did not specify how their patent-pending breakthrough makes this material group 3D printable, they did reveal to be looking at print-on-demand solutions for spare and custom parts. In particular, this fluoropolymer 3D printing service would be used for parts with particularly complex geometries, with PTFE leading the way. No 3D printed sealing, coating or lining applications have been mentioned yet, but these are now also reaching the realm of viable possibilities.

Doubtlessly, a lot more will be revealed in October during the K Show in Dusseldorf (19-26 October) – the world’s premier trade fair for rubbers and plastics. During the event 3M and its subsidiary Dyneon will introduce the material and their 3D printing breakthrough for the first time. If you’re interested, you can catch them at the 3M booth in Hall 5 (booth B10).



Posted in 3D Printing Materials



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Gab wrote at 10/19/2017 1:37:06 AM:

How can I get some?

Paul wrote at 10/21/2016 2:55:14 PM:

I've been in Duesseldorf recently and talked to someone at the 3M exhibition stand about their PTFE print. It seems to be an hybrid method where they first print the part in Stl (i can't really belive it, but its what he told me) and sinter it afterwards. I didn't get any datasheets but he ensured me that the materialproperties are pretty close to pure PTFE.

Elaheh Ghassemieh wrote at 9/25/2016 10:28:04 PM:

This is great news. But would this new PTFE formulation or process be applicable to all 3D printing machines or is this fit with certain printers?

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