Your current flagship printer is the Apium P155, but there is a new one, the Apium P220 developed by Apium and manufactured by Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG. What are the main differences compared to the Apium P155?
Prof. Okolo: There was a need to have a relatively bigger machine, for all kinds of reasons and size is a big difference. Secondly the mechanics you find on P220 are more superior than the ones on P155. It allows us to work for a longer time, it allows a print head travel with less obstruction. It brings higher reliability, also in terms of reproducibility of the parts that are printed out. The P220 will perform a lot better.
What was your intention in developing the Apium P220?
Prof. Okolo: The customers had a big influence in the development of the P220. We had a gentleman working here with us, Mr. Gopal, who did a lot of research and survey on what our potential customers would like to see in the printer and one of those was the size and of the busiest of that we decided to start designing a relatively bigger build volume machine.
In which industries and branches can the new printer be used? What kind of applications are possible?
Prof. Okolo: You need to keep in mind that 3D printing or additive manufacturing as you call it, is not a mass production tool, it really is not. It’s a mass customization tool. So, we'll be looking at industries where they need to have products that are not at the mass scale but at the small series scale, but also with a lot of design flexibility brought into it. The basis of that, key-industries are the medical sector, the aerospace sector and with large extend the R&D sector. These are sectors where you do not want to have a thousand parts fabricated, you want ten parts to do experimental work, change a design and going to the next experimental effort. That`s where our market segments are.
Apium is known for printing with PEEK, how important is the fact to control the crystallinity of PEEK?
Prof. Okolo: It is critical because the crystallinity is actually what makes PEEK unique. The crystalline phase is what gives PEEK its structural backbone, if you remove that it behaves like a commodity polymer. If we can control crystallinity, we can control the nominal strength of the printed part, especially the strength in the Z direction. Part of the efforts we are currently doing is to understand how the development of crystals occur, we need to be able to gain information about the data, at which temperature range can we reap the most crystalline domain within the material and how the amount of crystals influences the mechanical behaviour of the parts printed out. Our ability to control crystallinity is central to our processing strategy.
Which other high-performance polymers or materials can be processed using an Apium printer? Are you planning to develop more?
Prof. Okolo: Besides PEEK, we have PVDF it’s a fluoropolymer and it comes from the same family as Teflon, we also have a copolymer POM-C. We have ULTEM or PEI, it’s a polyamide. These polymers have very specific demands and needs and functions in industry. We picked these polymers because it’s a niche application zone. Together with that we know that there are new applications where modified materials could be used and we are pursuing in those applications. A typically example is in the development of 3D printed mould inserts. Polymers will be central to that, but because polymers are poor thermal conductors we know that we need to modify them to be able to meet those functional needs. We do see that in the near future, we will have new materials on our portfolio.
We have a certain activity running in printing metals, whereby we take advantage of what is already known in the so-called metal injection moulding field. Regarding our process, you have a metallic phase filled in a polymeric matrix, it is then shaped and debinded afterwards in such a way that you remove the polymeric phase trying to maintain the geometric composition of the moulded part, finally doing a sintering process. It’s not just printing, you also have other processes downstream that will get you to the finished part. It has been already demonstrated that it is possible to do this using our technology and we are pursuing this from the point of view that the technology we have, which is very specific to Apium, could be used to process these metallic filled polymers in a very unique way. We do see sometime in the near future that this product will be in our product portfolio as well.