Detroit — Stratasys Ltd. is preparing for big growth opportunities for additive manufacturing through key partnerships with materials firms.
During a May 22 news conference at the Rapid + TCT trade show, the Israeli maker of 3D printers discussed how its focus on two types of partnerships — strategic and performance — can help bring additional high-performance materials and production applications to market.
As part of that approach, Stratasys launched its authorized materials partner program at the trade show and disclosed its first partner: Belgian specialty chemicals firm Solvay SA.
"We're bringing in partners who have materials — very high-end, high-performance polymers — and we're working with them to get their materials on our products faster," said Pat Carey, senior vice president for strategic growth at Stratasys.
The program is designed to expand the range of high-performance polymers available to manufacturers that are using Stratasys FDM (fused deposition modeling) 3D printers, starting with the F900 model.
"Today, we have 19 highly tested materials," Carey said of the material range for its FDM process in 3D printing.
Some of those materials for FDM include carbon-fiber-filled nylon, thermoplastic polyurethane and a PEKK-based thermoplastic, among others.
"We test our materials a minimum of 30,000 hours because we are printing parts that are real parts," he added. "Our customers want to print parts that are the same every time. We're not just melting plastic."
Christophe Schramm, business manager for additive manufacturing in Solvay's specialty polymers global business unit, said during the conference that the company's ambition is to "become the leading provider for high-performance AM material solutions" in industries from aerospace and automotive to electronics and construction.
Through the strategic partnership, Solvay and Stratasys will work together on a joint roadmap of materials, starting with the commercialization for an AM-ready filament based on Solvay's Radel polyphenylsulfone (PPSU) polymer.
Solvay's Radel PPSU grades are developed for use in aircraft cabin interior components and meet stringent commercial and regulatory requirements for flammability, smoke density, heat release and toxic gas emissions.
"We believe that together we can bring additive manufacturing to the next level, especially for those demanding industrial applications where you need a high-performance printer and you need high-performance materials," Schramm said.
Carey, in a follow-up interview at the Stratasys booth, said the program will include more partners over time.
Stratasys had reached an "inflection point," he said, when the company realized it needed to partner with others to develop more high-performance materials.
"These large chemicals/materials companies bring a lot of expertise to the table that we frankly don't have," he said. "So, that's the key: How can we use their expertise around the material combined with our expertise around how to make it print?"
Stratasys needs the high-performance materials properties, he added, and materials firms like Solvay want to tap into the 3D printing industry and have their materials used in production applications.
"We know how to make [the material] extrude correctly. They know, chemically, how to make it happen," Carey said. "It's a true partnership in terms of we both come to the table with a set of expertise that, together, we can move faster."