DSM Advances in SLA, SLS, Sustainability

By on April 1st, 2019 in materials

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 Investment casting pattern made with Somos Element [Image: DSM]
Investment casting pattern made with Somos Element [Image: DSM]

DSM continues to look ahead in 3D printing with a new partnership, new SLS powder, and commitment to sustainable industry.

I spoke with Hugo da Silva, Vice President of Additive Manufacturing, DSM, to catch up on the latest announcements.

As 3D printing has increased as a part of DSM’s strategic focus, partnerships have proven to be an important part in expanding materials reach. The latest partnership, announced today, is with Stratasys.

Stratasys has just announced its first commercialized SLA 3D printer. The new V650 Flex is an open materials machine launching with its first four verified materials from DSM Somos.

“There was a lot of work cooking in the kitchen together with Stratasys to bring a solution to the market that will enable customers to have more options,” da Silva told me. “There is a big change in the industry of additive manufacturing, not only moving to manufacturing, where there is a mindset where customers should have options. This is answering a call from customers: ‘We need to have options, can large companies like DSM team up with other companies and bring us options and bring us new ideas, how to use an open platform and a reliable brand?’ This is the result of a lot of customers screaming out that they need an alternative.”

SLA remains a mainstay technology in the 3D printing market — and one that is due for something new. Da Silva noted that the call for open materials platforms is only growing as customers want to have more control over their operations and builds.

That Stratasys is entering with this perspective is, he added, significant.

“There are of course other machine launching, and other brands impacting the market. Stratasys, though, is impactful and so large. A combination of DSM and Stratasys makes a very powerful statement to customers that we are expanding 3D printing and making it more manufacturing-friendly, which we need to see if we want to accelerate adoption,” da Silva said. “This is the first of many partnerships like this.”

While the specifics of the deal aren’t public information, this partnership “is not something happening overnight,” nor is it “the only thing to come out of these discussions.”

Stratasys has been using DSM materials through Stratasys Direct for some time, as SLA has long been part of the offering there, and that usage is “now translating into this partnership,” da Silva said.

Switching gears, we moved on to another of DSM’s announcements this week: a new powder for SLS 3D printing.

Polybutylene terephthalate (PBT) powder is now pre-launching as a beta version, being co-developed with the market.

“We are launching PBT as a pure PBT,” da Silva said. “In the beginning we are launching this pure version, to be followed by some other introductions that will be reinforced. We don’t have a timeline yet, this is still confidential, but this is the first to come to the market. You will see other powders launched, on top of our filaments and other SLA products that are available on the market.”

The market release date is not being announced yet, but may come to light closer to RAPID + TCT, for which DSM naturally has more news planned. As of right now, the company cannot reveal who all is working with the PBT powder, but we are assured that there is significant customer testing ongoing. Because the powder is being designed “for high-volume manufacturing, for real manufacturing,” da Silva noted, “this suggests the costs will be competitive.”

The great thing about PBT, he continued, is that it is linked with sustainable manufacturing.

It’s refreshing when every time I catch up with a company representative the messaging stays in line, and that’s very true for da Silva: for DSM, sustainability is a major force driving business decisions.

And so it is with this introduction and overall messaging.

“Now that we are starting with manufacturing, let’s talk about manufacturing in a sustainable way,” da Silva said of the shift in additive manufacturing toward production applications. “The powder we are designing is recyclable in every step of the process. There is a very particular particle size needed for 3D printing; anything we make that does not fit that, this can be recyclable. Every single step in the whole value chain, our products can be recyclable.”

3D printing is still a young industry; we talk often about the need for standards development, for greater standardization. This all can be built in now, in early days, as a foundational aspect for new materials and applications, establishing a precedent. So it makes sense to build in other foundational thinking now, like sustainability.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for 3D printing, which is still a small, growing industry, to step toward sustainability, guaranteed less waste, guaranteed recycling infrastructure, to make sure to reuse materials and to use less materials,” da Silva said of the timing today. “3D printing has all the elements required to make this simple, easy, and cost-effective. This is something we’re really pushing as one of the leaders in the industry, and we’re pushing all the leaders in that direction. It’s not something that’s nice to have, it’s a key requirement. We want others to understand this is a business opportunity. Doing the best for the world is also a business opportunity for all of us in the industry.”

DSM is making it a mission to serve as a lighthouse example to partners, customers, and competitors, demonstrating that sustainability is a viable business strategy.

“We can make a large business out of that, if we design that way from the beginning. So when it scales, there is no extra cost. If we can help partners and customers, especially at scale, this creates a huge impact in the whole value chain, and people need to understand that,” he continued.

“The problem in industry is a lack of understanding how to calculate the cost of impact. Waste of materials has a huge cost, but people don’t understand that because they pay from a different pocket. We can’t do that ourselves, so we are also bringing partners to that game. If we move in the right direction as an industry, that can accelerate adoption. This is what we will be pushing and will be very vocal about. As companies, we all need to make money and make business, but we are doing it in a way to guarantee that we and our partners are making good business.”

Additive manufacturing is often touted as beneficial purely because it is additive, which can inherently lead to less waste generation than subtractive processes that remove materials. That doesn’t mean the industry itself is anywhere close to zero-waste, though. In today’s busy and growing world, sustainability does need to be a major focus. Starting now sets us
on the right path for a stronger, more sustainable future — both for the world and for business.

As ever, DSM remains active on the front lines of materials development in 3D printing. With new partners, new materials, and consistent vision, the company is placing itself well for ongoing success.


By Sarah Goehrke

Sarah Goehrke is a Special Correspondent for Fabbaloo, via a partnership with Additive Integrity LLC. Focused on the 3D printing industry since 2014, she strives to bring grounded and on-the-ground insights to the 3D printing industry. Sarah served as Fabbaloo's Managing Editor from 2018-2021 and remains active in the industry through Women in 3D Printing and other work.