Evonik is one of those players that has almost always been operating in stealth mode while achieving key milestones to help the industry move forward. Acknowledged for its contribution to the chemicals industry, the stock-listed German specialty chemicals company has been operating in the additive manufacturing for over 20 years.
Over time, the global company has built extensive expertise not only in its core business, which is chemistry and materials, but has also developed a whole set of services to position itself as a trustworthy company in the industry.
“Assigned to the business of powders, we started with nearly nothing. We really tried to learn how to adjust materials, we learned a lot at the very beginning. Today, adjusting materials to get the best results in the end has become a true expertise”, said Sylvia Monsheimer, our guest in this Opinion of the Week series.
Civil engineer by training, Monsheimer has been working for 31 years at Evonik and for 20 years in the company’s additive manufacturing market segment. It’s been 10 years that she is responsible for the economic and business side. She literally witnessed every struggle and every contribution the company made within this industry. As Head of the Market Segment New 3D Printing Technologies at Evonik, she shared with us the company’s understanding of 3D printing, its activities and current developments in this market.
Evonik’s beginnings in the additive manufacturing industry
About twenty-two years ago, Evonik decided to specialize in powders for laser sintering technology. The company develops and masters several methods to produce powders. “We can leverage a single production technique for each application”, said Monsheimer.
It is no secret that, nowadays, almost any material from ceramics to metal can be additively manufactured. Over time, this becomes the strength of the company and the reason why they are best known for, but they did not limit their activities to materials production. “We’ve also developed a unique expertise in additives such as flow agents”, explained Monsheimer. Maintaining a free-flow behavior while processing powders is critical to reduce down time and ensure product quality and homogeneity. “These additives which we call magic ingredients by the way are used for all 3D printing technologies, for example PBF, FDM or SLA. Evonik bundles it’s 3D printing activities within one of the group’s six innovation growth fields”, continued the Head of the Market Segment New 3D Printing Technologies.
“Besides the materials side, we also ensure quality assurance. We can scale up materials to supply the whole branch. We have applications departments. We have different machines for applications and not just in-house developments. We can develop low volume product development for everything around what is needed to develop both parts and applications.
If a company comes to us and wants to start a new product. We are able to support their project with regards to everything that surrounds the plastic industry.”
The 3D Screener, a new software tool for 3D Printing
Castor, an Israeli start-up in which Evonik’s Venture Capital invested in late 2019 has recently developed a 3D printing software which aims at advising if and how to apply 3D printing. Our conversation with Sylvia Monsheimer brought out further clarifications on this new tool.
Firstly, the software offers a variety of material choices and machines, be it additive manufacturing technologies or conventional manufacturing processes. The software proposes a materials’ list that would be ideal for a given application as well as three options for its ideal design. Once the user has made his choice, he can proceed to the other production stages.
Monsheimer stated that several tools can be leveraged to identify which parts are suitable for additive manufacturing. “It is hard to outline specific rules”, she said, “as it depends on several factors including the type of AM technology or the size of the part to manufacture. In the end, every company has to find the path that suits them best, but we at Evonik, believe Castor’s software is one of those tools that can make the difference in the decision-making process.”
It should be noted that a general version of the software contains a wide range of materials from various suppliers. However, the software version which is linked to Evonik’s website only contains the company’s materials list.
Evonik and Castor are currently collecting feedback from first users to see if there are any improvements to make but from a technical point of view, the software has been developed with artificial intelligence tools, which means that the more users it will have, the more it will be automatically improved.
Developments the industry can expect in terms of materials
Despite the laudable advancements in terms of materials in the additive manufacturing industry, there are still a lot of improvements that need to be made to foster a solid integration of AM technologies across industries. From the materials producer perspective, Evonik’s spokesperson strongly believes there is a need to develop tailor-made materials for each technology on the one hand, and to work in compliance with the customer pespective on the other hand.
Taking example in Evonik’s activities, the civil engineer explained that Evonik listens to the market needs to develop tailor-made materials solutions. “Flame-retardant materials are currently gaining momentum. We talk to OEMs to see what kind of materials we can open up in the industry and who says flame retardant materials, refers to maerials that can be utilized within the mobility and electronics industries. Other industries such as lifestyle and sport have their specific requirements. In the end, reality shows that depending on the applications they would like to achieve, every customer comes with their array of challenges, which result later on, in the appropriate set of materials solutions. However, for now, post-processing and flame-retardant materials remain hot topics.”
Our conversation with Sylvia Monsheimer taught us that Evonik’s primary goal is to develop “ready-to-use” high-performance materials that can meet the requirements of various technology lines but also additives that can serve as base for the production of other 3D printing materials.
With a global presence, Evonik has positioned itself on the AM industry strategically. “Evonik’s bond with AM is stronger than ever. The way Evonik works now is different from how the company did before”, said the company’s veteran.
For Monsheimer, if there is one thing the current challenging times have taught the world, it is the maturity of 3D printing technologies and their capabilities to ramp up production needs. In this context, the materials producer did not sit idly. Through its partners network, it donated its polyamide 12 powder material for urgently required medical applications regarding Covid-19.
“It is amazing to see how 3D printing is leveraged as a useful production tool in this Coronavirus crisis. With the media hype the technology has received, more companies will certainly think about this technology as a viable production tool and we are ready for them”, concluded Monsheimer.
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