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, the researchers at Zortrax report reaching 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.
There is an increasing demand for high-end composite parts to be 3D printed out of two high-performance polymers. Zortrax claims to have achieved this.
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 a key design goal in aerospace engineering and it can be done by building parts that serve multiple purposes at once. In a standard airplane or spacecraft, you need to include both structural elements and wiring for transferring energy or data between various systems. The Zortrax team aims to solve this requirement by 3D printing PEEK components with electrically conductive paths. This way, the structural parts can simultaneously perform electricity or data transfer functions without a weight penalty 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.
Zortrax engineering team managed to increase the rigidity of the Endureal printer’s extrusion system, which translated into better dimensional accuracy. Other hardware changes resulted in the Endureal’s reaching 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 changes in both firmware and software.
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 are already implemented across the board in all commercially available Endureal machines.