Kara Ann Noack, who joined BASF’s 3D printing effort in 2015 as Head of 3D Printing North America, said that customers across markets are looking to apply the polymers they’re already operating with to 3D printing applications.
“It's very varied across markets, across technologies. I would say the common thread is we want more, more choices, and we want better materials that are going to be able to enable functional parts,” Kara explained. “3D printing started off primarily being a prototyping technology but now people want to be able to make functional parts that go into production or enable them to go further through their testing lifecycle. The robustness and functionality of the parts have to be greatly improved and they need material innovations for that.”
Collaboration appears to be key in this industry and BASF has been developing integrated system solutions for customer applications together with industrial partners such as Prodways, Laser Sinter Service (LSS) and Farsoon. Most notably, last May BASF was one of the first big names announced as part of HP’s Jet Fusion Open Platform, which invites materials manufacturers to collaborate on the development of new materials for its Jet Fusion 3D printing technology. The focus is being driven by the “low-hanging fruit” application demands of end-users to produce industry specific and general material offerings.
“We believe that open platform strategies are going to really help 3D printing explode,” Kara commented. “It's great to be able to directly engage with end-users on what their material needs are and then also work with the HPs of the world to optimise those materials on their technologies. I think everyone wins in that kind of situation so we’re really excited about that.”
BASF has established a new dedicated business unit within BASF New Business GmbH (BNB), which identifies and develops long-term trends into new ventures. The company has also invested in an Application Technology Center for 3D printing in Heidelberg, Germany dedicated to developing customised material solutions and downstream applications with some of the world’s leading AM firms, such as Farsoon with whom the company co-developed a polyamide-6 powder for laser sintering. Inside the centre they’ve got just about every major additive technology on hand, ready to be put to the test with new material formulations.
BASF will attend this year’s Additive Manufacturing Users Group Conference as a Diamond Sponsor. In addition to presenting its own conference track, the company is keen to show fellow additive users how BASF materials can be useful in their projects through a Design Contest. The contest goes hand in hand with BASF’s acknowledgement that education is one of the primary factors, coupled with machine and peripheral innovations, that needs to be addressed in order for this industry to move forward.
“It's kind of a perfect storm of more open material platforms, more material innovations from companies like BASF,” Kara added. “It's really also about the technology innovations from the equipment manufacturers and perhaps one of the most important things too is the education build up of the design engineers knowing how to implement 3D printing and not think in just traditional manufacturing ways. I think when all those things start snowballing we'll see a real escalation and tipping point in 3D printing and its applicability to production and functional parts.”