Printing Plastic Parts from Powder

Assembly Automation

ISSN: 0144-5154

Article publication date: 28 September 2010



(2010), "Printing Plastic Parts from Powder", Assembly Automation, Vol. 30 No. 4.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2010, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Printing Plastic Parts from Powder

Article Type: News From: Assembly Automation, Volume 30, Issue 4

Using laser printers and powder to craft crucial and complex components for aeroplanes and cars could become common practice thanks to work being carried out at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU).

A £750,000 project, involving DMU’s world-leading Rapid Manufacturing and Prototyping Group, will develop a new machine which can produce complex plastic parts on demand.

The project, called selective laser printing of high performance polymers (SPRINT), will explore selective laser printing (SLP), an additive manufacturing process where fine polymeric powder is printed and then fused together to make complex parts essential to industries such as the aerospace and automotive sectors.

Additive manufacturing techniques, where objects are made without a mould, are increasingly used in industry but they are unable to produce parts with properties that match those which have been made traditionally by injecting plastic into moulds.

The project, which is part funded by the Technology Strategy Board, is led by rapid manufacturing specialists MTT Technology Ltd, with other partners being Renishaw Plc and Parker KV.

A previous project at DMU explored the possibilities of SLP – SPRINT promises to realise its full potential by developing a compact, energy-efficient machine along with a range of high-performance polymer materials that can be used in the process.

The SPRINT machine will precisely deposit powder using an adapted industrial laser printer before the entire layer is fused with an infrared radiant heater. The process will create less waste than other additive manufacturing techniques as it allows the powder to be laid only where it is required rather than across the entire build area.

Jason Jones, who is leading the project at DMU, said: “Selective laser printing has the potential of competing with the quality and speed of conventional manufacturing techniques without the requirement for expensive moulds.”

Although additive manufacturing was first introduced as a way of making prototype parts almost 20 years ago, the current commercial units are too slow and are unable to produce parts that can reliably withstand impacts and general wear and tear as well as moulded parts.

DMU’s Professor David Wimpenny, who originally conceived of the process, said: “The limitations of existing additive manufacturing systems prevent the most challenging and commercially rewarding applications – the production of precise complex parts using high performance polymers – from being exploited.

“The machine we are developing will produce parts with outstanding mechanical properties because every layer is fused using controlled heat and pressure. The process also has high processing speeds and excellent resolution.”

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