Impossible Objects now offers 3D-printed PEEK

The company claims that PEEK parts made with its 3D printing process are more than 50% lighter than comparable aluminum parts but demonstrates two-thirds ultimate strength.

Impossible Objects, North Brook, Ill., has added PEEK to its 3D printing offerings.

"Plastic-based 3D printing has not been able to compete with metals because of temperature resistance and strength. Now we can produce parts that begin to compete with metals in these areas, while having better strength-to-weight ratios than some metals," said Impossible Objects CEO Larry Kaplan. "Our mission is to bring 3D printing into the mainstream of higher volume, lightweight, high-performance part manufacturing. Adding PEEK to our roster of printable materials is a major step toward that goal."

Impossible Objects claims that PEEK parts made with its 3D printing process are more than 50% lighter than comparable aluminum parts but demonstrated two-thirds ultimate strength, at 205 MPa versus 310 MPa for Aluminum 6061-T6.

In addition, PEEK polymers can be recycled with Impossible Objects' new 3D printing process. 3D printed carbon fiber composite PEEK parts are available today from Impossible Objects.

The process

Conventional thermal inkjet heads are used to "print" designs on sheets of composites, like carbon fiber, Kevlar or fiberglass. Each sheet is then flooded with a polymer powder, such as nylon or PEEK, causing the powder to stick where inkjet fluid has been deposited on the sheets. Excess powder is vacuumed off and the sheets are stacked, compressed and heated. The polymer powder melts and bonds the sheets together. The uncoated fibers are then mechanically or chemically removed, and what remains is an exceptionally durable, lightweight object that was previously impossible to make so quickly and inexpensively.

"These advances of speed and material properties will allow additive manufacturing to change how things are made," said Robert Swartz, chairman and founder of Impossible Objects. "Our focus on making functional parts, not just prototypes, stems from our proprietary materials sciences breakthroughs, which provide our process with advantages over other 3D approaches, including strength and speed."

The process yields geometrically complex parts with the strength-to-weight ratio of metals that are ideal for use cases where having light parts without sacrificing strength is critical, including aerospace, aviation, defense, oilfield services, automotive and performance athletics. The parts can be up to 10x stronger at production speeds scalable to 100x faster, using a wider range of materials, including carbon fiber, Kevlar and fiberglass. CBAM parts also have air- and water-tight features. CBAM parts composed of carbon fiber and nylon have tensile strength of 150 MPa (21,700 psi) and heat resistance of 120°C (248°F), while those made with PEEK perform more than 30% better with tensile strength of 205 MPa (29,700 psi) and heat resistance of 250°C (482°F). 

"Our long-term goal is to compete with machining and injection molding," Swartz said. "We have a multi-year roadmap to realize additively manufactured parts on par with those made through traditional manufacturing methods, such as injection molding, machining and die-casting."

Impossible Objects will speak about CBAM during CW's Carbon Fiber conference 2016 (Nov. 9-11; Scottsdale, Ariz.).  

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