Designed to enable high throughput production with maximum process control, the NEX 01 is powered by a motion control system and slicing algorithm that lend it micron-resolution 3D printing capabilities. These, in tandem with the machine’s Liquid Crystal Polymer (LCP) compatibility, are said to make it well suited to meeting industrial applications in the most demanding of production environments.
Compared to materials like PEEKs or PEIs, LCPs are made up of shorter, stiffer molecules that are organized in a way that provides them with attractive strength characteristics. Around these polymers, NematX has developed a Nematic 3D Printing technology. Using Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF), this process aligns LCPs along the print direction, to deliver mechanically-enhanced parts.
Leveraging its technology, NematX boasts of being able to create prints with a Young’s moduli of up to 25 GPa and ultimate tensile strength of 650 MPa. The ETH Zurich spin-off’s approach has also seen it recognized as an industry innovator and helped it establish a client base. NematX won the Formnext Start-up Challenge in 2020, and it has now begun marketing its own range of LCP filaments.
Said to be ten times stronger than PEEK, these chemically and biologically inert materials feature low-flammability, high radiation resistance, and allow for the production of parts within an accuracy of 25 µm. NematX says it also produces its LCPs to the “highest quality standards” using a sophisticated in-line monitoring system to continuously control filament diameter and ovality during production.
With the NEX 01, NematX has launched a commercial 3D printer to complement its software and material portfolio. In practice, the system works by controlling LCPs’ molecular alignment during extrusion to enable the creation of parts with improved thermal, biological, mechanical and chemical properties. Compared to traditional 3D printing materials, LCPs can also be deposited with much higher precision and speed, hence the NEX 01 offers significant potential throughput benefits.
To enable users to fully utilize these LCP 3D printing advantages, NematX has fitted the NEX 01 with a motion control system that allows them to closely manage extrusion volume. The machine also comes with a rapid build plate exchange setup that facilitates volume production, in addition to a fully-integrated process monitoring system, which enables adopters to ensure part quality.
Once launched, the firm anticipates that the NEX 01’s high-grade components and LCP 3D printing capabilities will unlock the “serial production of complex technical products.” The machine is now commercially available, with the first units scheduled for delivery in Q2 2023, and it’s also set to be deployed in support of NematX’s 3D printing R&D and custom part manufacturing services.
“With our decision to offer tailored hardware and software solutions for our materials, we did not take the path of least resistance” explains NematX CEO Raphael Heeb. “But thanks to our holistic approach, we have the chance to set new standards in polymer 3D printing by combining part performance with high manufacturing precision.”
LCPs no doubt have industrial manufacturing potential, but they’re far from the only high-performance polymers in the 3D printing space. With the launch of its Plus PRO 3D printers earlier this year, Roboze further expanded its high-temp PEEK production offering, which continues to find demanding aerospace and defense applications.
Taking a slightly different approach with its Continuous Fiber Reinforcement Technology, Markforged also provides users with a way of 3D printing high-strength polymers. However, the process does so via a form of carbon fiber reinforcement, which is designed to yield prints that are strong, stiff and durable enough to replace aluminum parts.