Chemical Companies’ Focus on 3D Printing
Evonik recently announced its acquisition of 3D printing materials startup Structured Polymers.
Germany-based Evonik boasts more than two decades’ focus on additive manufacturing among its specialty chemical activities. In 2016, the company was announced as a materials partner for HP’s then-new Multi Jet Fusion technology with its open materials platform.
Texas-based Structured Polymers, for its part, traces its roots back to 2012 with total focus on materials for additive manufacturing. The company creates powders for processes including MJF and SLS.
Structured Polymers notes:
“The team, led by founders Dr. Vikram Devarajan, Dr. Jim Mikulak, and Dr. Carl Deckard, along with a highly talented engineering team led by Dr. Abhimanyu Bhat, created a proprietary scalable process for commercializing high-performance polymer powders and is committed to expanding the availability of materials for 3D-printing.”
This focus on polymer materials, with scalability, sees it now join Evonik’s portfolio as it will integrate into the North American business. The startup now has the backing of Evonik’s larger resources behind it, which Structured Polymers CEO Vikram Devarajan notes “will allow us to diversify the 3D printing materials market to a significant degree and to work with our customers on developing new business opportunities.” In 2017, the startup welcomed VC investment from Evonik, laying the foundation for the now much deeper relationship.
While the new corporate resources offer much to Structured Polymers’ operations, Evonik gains immediate access to now-in-house expertise.
“The new technology allows us to take virtually any semi-crystalline thermoplastic, such as polybutylene terephthalate, polyether ketone, or polyamide 6, or polymer powders with specialized properties like color, conductivity, or flame protection, and produce them for common powder-based 3D printing processes, such as selective laser sintering, high-speed sintering, or multi-jet fusion. In addition, we anticipate that Structured Polymers’ technology can be scaled up easily and economically,” says Thomas Grosse-Puppendahl, the head of the Additive Manufacturing Innovation Growth Field at Evonik.
The high-performance polymer powders Structured Polymers creates have “controlled particle sizes ranging in diameter between 0.1 and 400 µm,” Evonik’s announcement notes. Such consistent and controlled particles are necessary for the fine tuning of industrial additive manufacturing processes.
Larger chemical companies are turning toward 3D printing with ever more interest and investment; Evonik is by no means lonely in its activities.
BASF, DSM, SABIC, Solvay -- the world’s chemical giants have taken notice of 3D printing and are structuring their strategies accordingly. With great polymeric expertise from decades if not centuries of operations, these traditional companies are turning their attention to the unique needs of 3D printing processes. Powders, pellets, filaments: polymers of all sorts and qualities (and in increasing quantities) are being formulated for 3D printing.
Evonik’s strategic acquisition points to an awareness of this growing marketplace and fits well among the company’s AM activities to date. Bringing in more expertise specific to 3D printing is a strong move. And strong moves are necessary as more companies announce significant investments into the materials space.