Advancing polypropylene 3D printing with PPprint

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Despite being one of the most widely consumed plastics in the world, polypropylene (PP) has yet to be fully exploited for 3D printing, due to issues with interlayer bonding, warping, bed adhesion and inadequate support materials.

However, PP 3D printing materials specialist PPprint is on a mission to change that. Having built a comprehensive portfolio of materials dedicated to PP since its inception four years ago, the company also offers printing and support services to its customers to accelerate the use of PP in additive manufacturing.

I spoke to Product Manager Sebastian Schmidt about the benefits of PP and its advantages over other polymeric materials for FDM 3D printing, as well as the company’s ambitious plans to expand 3D printing adoption PP in very demanding industries like automotive, tooling, medical technology. and others.

“The great thing about PP, and why it’s so widely used in injection molding and extrusion, is because of its versatile property profile,” he said. “PP is so widely applicable that it is used as a cross-industry material, enabling a wide range of applications from medical technology products to the automotive sector.

“Thanks to this excellent property profile, the market share of PP in 3D printing is expected to increase significantly in the coming years.”

Polypropylene parts 3D printed by PPprint. Photo via PPprint.

Why choose PP for 3D printing?

Although PLA and ABS are the most common polymers used in polymer extrusion 3D printing processes, they do not always provide the desired properties or quality required by many targeted applications. In contrast, PP offers a number of superior properties that make it suitable for producing reliable parts.

First, the material can be effectively recycled, making it an attractive choice from a sustainability perspective, while its chemical resistance to acids, alcohol and water appeals to many industries. PP also has very good breaking strength and semi-flexibility, which means that the parts are almost unbreakable. Coupled with its low density, PP is particularly suitable for the production of light and robust parts.

Additionally, many grades of PP are compatible with sterilization processes and can be easily cleaned manually or in the dishwasher. Skin-friendly and food-safe, PP can also be used in medical technology and food contact applications and has the advantage of a high aesthetic surface quality.

Due to the frequent issues of interlayer adhesion, warping, bed adhesion, and inadequate support materials, the market for 3D printing with PP material is still in a developing stage.

PPprint aims to change that, with its portfolio of advanced PP materials, purpose-built support material and specialist printing services. The company founders have decades of experience working with PP and have combined their expertise to offer customers comprehensive know-how and support in implementing PP into their production processes.

PPprint's all-polypropylene 3D printing offering.  Picture via PPprint.
PPprint’s all-polypropylene 3D printing offering. Picture via PPprint.

PPprint’s point of difference

Although PPprint lists well-known companies such as BASF, Braskem, Verbatim and FormFutura as its main competitors, the company claims that its absolute focus on PP and close contact with its customers sets PPprint apart in the market, as it is the only company in the world. which specializes exclusively in 3D printing with PP.

“We are the specialists in 3D printing of polypropylene,” Schmidt said. “Since our creation in 2018, we have been printing PP parts every day in our printing house. We know the problems, advantages and limitations of this material, and we have specific know-how in PP printing, not only in terms of the material, but also in terms of the successful use of the material in the printing 3D.

PPprint’s PP materials have relatively higher tensile elasticity and interlayer bonding than other commercial PP filaments on the market, and also offer a number of other advantages. Unlike their competitors who only offer PP filament in a limited range of colors, PPprint offers a wide variety of colors and the possibility of custom colors.

PPrint offers the world’s only detachable support material specifically developed for PP, P-support 279, which enables the creation of much more complex 3D printed shapes and designs that were previously unattainable when printing with PP. The support material allows customers to print parts with bridges, overhangs and openings, and can be easily removed when heating.

A common pitfall of 3D printing with PP is the reluctance of the material to stick to the surface of the printer bed. Although using commercially available glue sticks or adhesives can solve this problem, the manual process is quite complicated, tedious and customers will have to repeat each time they want to print something.

To overcome this, PPprint has developed its own patent-pending print bed surface, P-Surface 141, which can be installed on customers’ 3D printers and is specifically designed for printing PP. Other polymeric materials such as ABS, PLA, and TPU can also be printed on this 3D printing build surface, meaning customers don’t need to remove it between prints and when printing. change of material.

“In addition to the full PPprint product portfolio, we offer technical support and jointly optimize, design and print PP parts with our customers,” Schmidt added. “As material developers and 3D printing experts, we provide material solutions with PP to customers to meet their specific needs.”

According to Schmidt, the biggest point of difference between PPprint and other material suppliers is its complementary “PP 3D printing package” consisting of advanced 3D printing materials, unique support material, bed printing specially developed for PP combined with solid expertise in materials science. .

“We offer packages for all types of FDM printers,” Schmidt explained. “We want to enable printing with PP and give everyone the ability to print, whether on an entry-level desktop 3D printer like a Prusa, mid-priced machines like Ultimaker or from Raise3D or more expensive industrial FDM machines.”

Achieving a circular economy with its materials is also important for the company, to give PPprint customers the option of returning their printed media, which will then be recycled by PPprint and reused.

A variety of polypropylene parts 3D printed by PPprint.  Photo via PPrint.
A variety of polypropylene parts 3D printed by PPprint. Photo via PPrint.

Developing the PP market

Currently, PPprint’s main markets are the medical technology sector, due to the certifications that the company’s materials have received in the field of skin contact (DIN EN ISO 10993-5), and the automotive sector where Enterprise capabilities are deployed primarily for the purpose of functional prototyping. , as for German car manufacturers. The company is also active in the tooling industry due to its broad real estate profile, as well as in consumer goods and other industries that use functional prototyping.

“Particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic, the demand has increased even more significantly, we didn’t have many customers before in the medical technology field and now we probably have 60% of our customers coming from the MedTech field. because the material is perfectly suited for these applications,” Schmidt said. “I think the medical technology field will dramatically increase its use of PP, there’s no getting around that.”

PPprint’s support material, which has a similar print profile and properties to its PP filament, allows for high customization of these applications to be efficiently functional for patients while providing optimal mechanical properties.

Looking at how the adoption of PP can be increased in these sectors and beyond, Schmidt believes that there will be some optimization on the hardware and software side to further improve the printability of PP and therefore open it up to more applications. applications and customers.

“As far as software and slicing go, you can optimize the drive of the printheads, a project we’re currently working on, but you can also think about optimizing the nozzle shape for the specific material,” a- he explained. “Progress will definitely be made there in the future, but that doesn’t mean you can’t already achieve great results.”

Going forward, PPprint aims to supply its PP materials globally and has now announced the availability of the product in North America, India and China, to strengthen its existing European market. Increasing the availability of its materials in new markets around the world is the next step in the company’s growth trajectory, Schmidt said.

“We are a research-driven company and we have many ongoing research projects that will allow us to come out with better reinforced materials specifically optimized for 3D printing, such as fiberglass, calcium carbonate or other charges,” he explained. “Speed ​​is also a key issue, we are looking at improving PP printing, like creating a material that can be printed at a higher speed, for example.

“Our goal is growth, and as PP has started to grow in the market in recent years, interest has become higher, and we are trying to be part of this movement. PP will definitely be one of the materials which will occupy an important place in the 3D printing market.”

PPprint's support material in action.  Picture via PPprint.
PPprint’s support material in action. Picture via PPprint.

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Featured image shows polypropylene parts 3D printed by PPprint. Photo via PPprint.

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