Zortrax develops groundbreaking 3D printing technology with support of the European Space Agency.

Zortrax with the support of the European Space Agency (ESA)* is working to develop a technology that enables 3D printing high-performance composite parts out of two blends of PEEK filament  in dual extrusion on Zortrax Endureal industrial 3D printer. After nearly a year of research  and development efforts, we have reached a major milestone. The first prototype composite parts made out of standard PEEK and experimental electrically conductive PEEK developed by ESA have been successfully fabricated on the Zortrax Endureal.

The LPD Plus dual extrusion technology used in the Zortrax Endureal has been traditionally used  to print support structures out different material than the model itself. However, across the aerospace sector, there is an increasing demand for high end composite parts 3D printed out of two  high-performance polymers. This is exactly what has just been achieved. To highlight what is possible with this new solution, Zortrax engineers used ESA’s experimental blend of electrically conductive PEEK  in combination with pure PEEK to print proof-of-concept models with simple electricity and data transfer features on the Zortrax Endureal.

– Reducing weight is always one of the key design goals in aerospace engineering and it can be done  by building parts which serve multiple purposes at once. In a standard airplane or spacecraft, you need to include both structural elements and wiring responsible for transferring energy or data between various systems. That is what we aim to solve with 3D printing PEEK components with electrically conductive paths. This way, the structural parts can at the same time perform electricity or data transfer functions without weight penalty incurred for additional wires. Imagine casting a solid steel slab that also works as a USB connector. That’s what the Endureal can do with high-performance polymers – says Michał Siemaszko, Head of Research and Development at Zortrax S.A.

Printing composite models have been made possible because the Endureal’s impressive specs were bumped even further. Zortrax engineering team managed to increase the rigidity of the extrusion system which translated into even better dimensional accuracy. Other hardware changes resulted in the Endureal’s reaching even higher operating temperatures. The top extrusion temperature now stands at 480 °C. Maximum temperatures in the printing chamber and on the build platform can reach 200 °C and 220 °C, respectively, to further reduce warping and shrinkage of high performance materials. Printing composite parts out of two materials also required innovative changes in both firmware and software.

– The technology we are developing opens up a clear path to use the Zortrax Endureal for 3D printing smart components with built-in electrical circuits, all while retaining excellent thermal and mechanical properties of high-performance polymers like PEEK. This will make this printer a powerful tool in the hands of engineers and designers working for high end and demanding application like automotive, aerospace and space. We also expect groundbreaking solutions developed in projects like this one to quickly trickle down to our production level 3D printers – says Rafał Tomasiak, the CEO of Zortrax S.A.

And this trickling down has already started. All changes and improvements that has been made to the printer’s design to enable dual extrusion 3D printing using pure PEEK and conductive PEEK developed by ESA are already implemented across the board in all commercially available Endureal machines.
The customers can rest assured that the printers they ordered will come ready to print composite models after a simple software update when the technology reaches production level.

*The view expressed herein can in no way be taken to reflect the official opinion of the European Space Agency. 

About Zortrax Endureal:
Zortrax Endureal is a third generation industrial LPD Plus 3D printer designed for processing high-performance polymers like Z-PEI 9085 and PEEK-based materials with thermal and mechanical properties comparable to metal alloys. It has a large build-space measuring 400 x 300 x 300 mm.

The machine is divided down into three thermally isolated zones: the filament compartment,
the extruder’s compartment, and the printing chamber. Maximum extrusion temperature is 480 °C, the aluminum build platform covered with a PEI film heats up to 220 °C, and the temperature in the printing chamber can be precisely defined by the user all the way up to 200 °C.

About Zortrax:
Zortrax is a Polish company providing comprehensive 3D printing solutions. It has built a strong position on the market of 3D desktop devices, supplementing its offering with print materials, Z-SUITE software and other products that improve the efficiency of the prototyping process. Zortrax devices are used by thousands of customers around the world in various industries, from architecture
to medicine, automotive, engineering, industrial design and fashion. NASA and the Bosch group have been among the satisfied users of Zortrax solution.