Charles Goulding and Andressa Bonafe of R&D Tax Savers discuss 3M’s interest in 3D printing.
Founded in 1902 as a small-scale mining venture, 3M has become a global powerhouse that discovers and innovates in nearly every industry. Its diversified portfolio of over 60 thousand products includes industrial, safety, and consumer goods. With $32 billion in sales and 91,000 employees, 3M has corporate operations in 70 countries and sales in 200. The company leverages 46 technology platforms, ranging from advanced materials to nanotechnology. Strongly committed to R&D, 3M invests nearly 5.8 percent of its sales in innovative science, which results in the production of over 3 thousand new patents every year (amounting to a total of 112,403 thousand patents, as of July 2017). 3M’s 46 technology platforms span various materials, processing, capabilities, and applications, as presented above.
Additive manufacturing is an area in which 3M’s science-based approach has led to ground-breaking advancements. The company’s innovative efforts in 3D printing research as well as the application of 3D printing capabilities in its wide-ranging businesses are good examples of activities that could be eligible for R&D tax credits.
The Research & Development Tax Credit
Enacted in 1981, the federal Research and Development (R&D) Tax Credit allows a credit of up to 13 percent of eligible spending for new and improved products and processes. Qualified research must meet the following four criteria:
New or improved products, processes, or software
Technological in nature
Elimination of uncertainty
Process of experimentation
Eligible costs include employee wages, cost of supplies, cost of testing, contract research expenses, and costs associated with developing a patent. On December 18, 2015, President Obama signed the bill making the R&D Tax Credit permanent. Beginning in 2016, the R&D credit can be used to offset Alternative Minimum Tax and startup businesses can utilize the credit against $250,000 per year in payroll taxes.
3M’s Areas of Expertise
As a diversified technology company, 3M has a history of innovation within various industries, being both a product manufacturer and material supplier. Examples include:
Automotive: 3M has over 100 years of experience in the automotive industry. It has helped OEMs improve fuel economy with lightweight solutions and enabled auto-body specialists to revolutionize the painting process. Its automotive products include abrasives, filtration, adhesives and tapes, traffic and vehicle safety accessories, advanced materials, among others. The company services various automotive subsectors including auto care, collision repair, facility safety, OEM and tier, as well as post factory installation.
Design & Construction: 3M works with architects, designers, and construction companies to conciliate the demands of solid construction with good design aesthetics. Its design and construction products target building, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, home improvement, and infrastructure. They include state-of-the-art window films, roofing materials, electrical tapes, and cable management solutions.
Manufacturing: With a strong focus on maximizing efficiency, 3M serves numerous manufacturing industries. For instance, the company offers assembly, attachment, identification, noise-reduction, and protection solutions for the appliances industry, which help make household appliances stronger, lighter, and more cost-effective. It also supplies advanced solutions for woodworking processes, especially superior finishing applications, such as bonding, painting, staining, coating, and sanding. Similarly, 3M designs numerous products for the metalworking industry, which including abrasivesbuilt to withstand grinding on the toughest metal substrates and deliver fine finishes.
Commercial Solutions: 3M’s commercial solutions include floor care, cleaning, graphics and signage, building and site security, along with products targeting the food industry, such as packaging, sealing, films, and drive-thru communications. Examples of products are sponges, hand pads and floor mops, buffing pads, floor protectors and dusters, safety mats and anti-slip technologies.
Electronics: 3M is committed to supporting innovation within the electronics industry. It does so by producing a range of abrasives, chemicals, electronics materials, touch displays, and touch systems. Product examples include headsets, conductive tape, server solutions for data centers, highly reflective films, as well as various materials to improve semiconductor processing and handling, which include CMP and surface finishing materials for wafer processing, fluids for thermal management, tape and reel for chip transport, as well as materials for wafer doping and ion implantation.
Mining, Oil & Gas: With a history in mineral extraction, 3M applies science to develop extraction, transportation, production, and safety technologies forcutting-edge mining, oil, and gas applications around the world. Examples of 3M solutions span various areas, including drilling and cementing, metal fabrication, refinery and plant safety, pipeline corrosion and protection, flow assurance, as well as equipment and facility maintenance. Examples include special coating that protects pipes from erosion; equipment that shields workers’ hearing; microscopic glass bubbles, an additive that can make polymer foams so strong they can withstand the crushing pressure associated with deep ocean oil wells; and highly reflective materials, designed to enhance the visibility of the workers in dim light conditions when illuminated by a light source and purification systems for amine gas sweetening systems.
Energy: 3M’s innovative work is helping save energy, reduce the cost per watt, and uncover new ways to create and sustain a more viable future. Its wide-ranging energy products help harvest sunlight, develop and supply a quality reliable connection to the grid, reduce the weight of power transmission lines and enable them to carry more power. Products span various energy markets, including electrical construction and maintenance, energy conservation, energy storage and fuel cell, power distribution, power generation, and power transmission. An interesting example is how 3M applied conductor materials research to develop 3M Aluminum Conductor Composite Reinforced (ACCR), an overhead aluminum composite conductor that is lighter than and as strong as steel core conductors with far less sag to carry more load.
Safety: Across diverse industries and applications, 3M solutions help make workers, facilities, roads, and communities safe. Products include safety glasses, hearing protection, disposable respirators, safety harnesses, reflective road markings, water filtration, and fire-stopping solutions. In addition to a portfolio of personal protective equipment (PPE), 3M offers food safety and microbiology solutions as well as traffic and vehicle safety.
Health Care: With the goal of enabling progress in healthcare, 3M has worked within various health-related markets, including bioprocessing, medical, drug delivery, medical device components, oral care, and health information systems. In addition to meeting ever more stringent patient requirements, 3M’s products aim to simplify procedures and improve outcomes. From patient and sterilization monitoring to vascular access and surgical solutions, 3M facilitates the job of healthcare providers.
Transportation: 3M is engaged in numerous efforts to efficiently build safer, comfortable, attractive, durable, and environmentally responsible modes of transportation. Its transportation products span various sectors, from aerospace and rail to marine and personal recreation vehicles. Solutions include surface protection, sealants, acoustic and weight management systems, as well as rate improvement and cost optimization. In the aerospace industry, for instance, 3M products are applied to aircraft painting, cabin components, engine, surface protecting and enhancing, thermal management, void filling, structural bonding, among others.
3M and 3D printing
3M has played an important role in additive manufacturing research. In 2016, the company and its subsidiary Dyneon unveiled a proprietary technology for 3D printing with fully-fluorinated polymers. It was the first time that fluoropolymers, such as such as 3M Dyneon PTFE, could be processed by 3D printers, which opened the way for numerous possibilities, including the production of complex geometric forms, creation of rapid prototypes, integration of various components, as well as cost reductions due to less expensive tooling and lower machined material requirements.
PTFE is a uniquely versatile material, used in everything from non-stick cookware to self-lubricating bearings – thanks to its almost universal chemical resistance and ability to withstand temperatures up to 260°C. Due to its high melting temperature, however, PTFE cannot be processed using techniques such as injection molding or extrusion. Instead, PTFE parts are typically made using a combination of compression molding and sintering, which can be expensive and generate a considerable amount of waste. These techniques also typically require the development of custom tooling, which can make it difficult to take advantage of fast-turnaround opportunities.
By offering a different way of processing PTFE and other fully-fluorinated polymers, 3M has allowed for the fabrication of complex shapes and production of polymer structures in a single processing step instead of traditional processing techniques that require moulding and assembling component parts. 3M’s solution has allowed for innovative applications in the automotive, chemical processing, medical, as well as energy and aerospace markets. Potential benefits include accelerated product design cycles, more freedom of design, as well as material savings and reduction in waste, as unused material can be used for subsequent printing jobs.
3M’s pioneering technology utilizes an additive manufacturing method called stereolithography, also known as vat polymerization, which involves the curing or solidification of a photosensitive material using an irradiation light source that selectively delivers energy to specific regions. The company underlines that once printed, the parts display properties similar to those produced by traditional PTFE processing techniques. In fact some properties, such as surface finish, may even be superior. 3M presents a list of benefits of 3D printing with PTFE, namely:
Expanded freedom of design
• Allows greater geometric flexibility, enabling novel designs and delivery methods
• Adds functionality to designs
• Creates possibilities for weight reduction, improved properties and enhanced durability
• Improves response time to customer demands
• Enables “on-demand” supply of customized products
Enhanced product development cycle
• Accelerates and improves design iteration
• Eliminates the need for long lead time tooling when generating prototypes
• Reduces unit cost and lead time of small batch series
Potential cost savings
• Reduces tooling and tooling maintenance cost
• Streamlines production by printing integrated assemblies in fewer steps
• Generates less waste than traditional subtractive manufacturing techniques
• Reduces inventories by printing spare parts “on-demand”
3M flouropolymers, such as PTFE and PFA, are key components to the success of low-cost and high performance SLA machines. Carbon revolutionized the SLA process by utilizing a fluoropolymer exposure window to continuously cure the material and thereby increased the speeds of SLA processes by several multiples. Low-cost machines like the Prusa SL1 and Full Spectrum Laser use thin PFA film to allow the cured layer to peel easily off of the base.
3M’s innovative initiatives span various industries, from automotive to health care. Recent advancements in 3D printing with PTFE point to the tremendous potential for advancements in additive manufacturing materials and applications. R&D tax credits are available to support these diverse, multi-industry efforts.