High-performance polymers are among the key materials of the future. As a result of their outstanding material properties, they are well-suited for numerous applications such as aviation, medical devices or mechanical engineering: this group of materials stands out due to an extraordinary combination of properties such as flame retardance, light weight, high tensile strength and biocompatibility. In order to make the modern e-manufacturing way of production possible also for these promising materials, world market leader EOS has developed with EOSINT P 800 the world's first high-temperature system for laser-sintering of high-performance polymers. As the first material from this group the EOS PEEK HP3 material - belonging to the group of polyaryletherketone - has been fully developed for use on the new system. The new system EOSINT P 800 saw its world premiere introduction at EuroMold 2008.
"As a market leader in the field of e-Manufacturing the development of a system for high-performance polymers has been a logical step for us, because laser-sintering is ideally suited for premium and complex applications which are very often based on high-performance polymers" says Dr. Hans Langer, founder and CEO of EOS. "However, the development of such a system initially was considered to be hardly feasible in technical terms due to the high temperatures involved. As a technology leader we nevertheless took on the challenge - and we succeeded."
Interplay with heat: EOSINT P 800
High-performance polymers are very interesting due to their excellent material properties for a number of applications and industries. However until now they could not be used in the laser-sintering process due to their melting point between 220°C (428°F) and 380°C (716°F) degrees. Due to its capability for process temperatures up to 385°C (725°F) the new EOSINT P 800 is the world's first system which enables the laser-sintering production process for this highly interesting group of materials. It builds on the proven and mature design of the EOSINT P 730. Through a number of completely redesigned components such as the processing chamber and a removable frame it has now been advanced to the level of requirement necessary for a high-temperature processes. Establishing a temperature level that is around 200°C (392°F) higher than with ordinary laser-sintering applications presented new challenges regarding long-term stability, managing thermal expansion and temperature distribution within the system. As a consequence EOS applied new materials that had not previously been used in laser-sintering system design. The patented deployment of glass ceramics for the removable frame serves as a good example here. As such, the design not only fulfils the process requirements of temperature distribution but also the mechanical accuracy requirements, taking into account as well the thermal expansion.
Materials with promising future
With PEEK HP3 EOS for the first time presents a high-performance polymer for laser-sintering. The raw material is converted into powder by EOS and processed to be suitable for the production process. Laser-sintered products reach a tensile strength up to 95 MPa and a Young's Modulus of 4,400 MPa. These values are up to 100 percent higher than for the materials PA12 and PA11 which are currently dominating the market. The continuous operating temperature is - depending on individual cases - between 260°C/500°F (electrical), 240°C/464°F (mechanical static) and 180°C/356°F degrees (mechanical dynamic).
Apart from aggressive acids, the extraordinary chemical stability makes PEEK resistant to any kind of chemicals. In applications such as aerospace - where lightness and flame retardance are of major importance - PEEK has developed into a popular alternative to metals. Due to it purity, its high stability and chemical resistance it has also proceeded to become the gold standard for HPLC applications (high performance liquid chromatography) in analytical science. In medical applications properties such as biocompatibility, sterilisability, high tensile strength and conductivity make this material an ideal substitute for stainless steel and titanium. Another reason which makes developers and designers search more and more for new material solutions and processing technologies in plastics is the high cost and innovation pressure. PEEK is considered to be one of the highest performing thermoplastic polymers and as such is seen as a promising material for the future.
EOS was founded in 1989 and is today the world leading manufacturer of laser-sintering systems. Laser-sintering is the key technology for e-Manufacturing, the fast, flexible and cost-effective production of products, patterns or tools. The technology manufactures parts for every phase of the product life cycle, directly from electronic data. Laser-sintering accelerates product development and optimizes production processes. EOS completed its business year 2007/2008 with revenues of approximately 70 million Euro which is an increase of 17 percent compared to the previous year. The company employs 280 people worldwide, 230 of them at its headquarters in Krailling near Munich, Germany.