Pioneering new products with CALM, Thales UK and the MTC
The University’s Centre for Additive Layer Manufacturing recently worked with the MTC and Thales UK, to showcase how Additive Manufacturing can be used with high performance polymers, such as PEEK.
In recent years, there have been rapid developments in equipment and materials within the high-performance polymer sector of additive manufacturing. However, the challenge of identifying suitable applications for these new technologies still exists, together with a gap in knowledge for how best to approach building these components.
The project focused on identifying, redesigning and building a manufacturing product that would benefit from being produced using Additive Manufacturing with a high performance polymer. PEEK (Polyether ether ketone), was selected as a suitable material, being a recyclable thermoplastic, with excellent mechanical properties and thermal stability.
Further, the PEEK 450 plastic used by researchers – although not a commercial laser sintering grade – is already qualified for use in Thales. This made the plastic an ideal choice for comparison purposes offering easy integration into the organisation, while allowing the project to build on the strong, pre-existing knowledge of the material engineers.
For the product itself, Thales selected a cable guide, used in one of its underwater systems to direct optical cables. From this point, all partners worked together to develop a new design for the product. This design was then optimised in Exeter and the MTC for lightweighting and ease of assembly.
The selected design was then printed with PEEK material, in Exeter’s EOS P 800 – a high-temperature Powder Bed Fusion (PBF) system which uses a CO2 laser that can run at temperatures up to 385 °C. The laser is used to consolidate material in powder form to form three-dimensional objects. The final parts were inspected by the Thales team, whose experts confirmed that they achieved the expected benefits, including the reshaping of the original duct to create a lighter part with less material wastage.
This project helps evaluate the use of high-performance polymers in Additive Manufacturing (AM) within Thales UK, making a crucial step that will guide engineers in their choice of materials to be used with AM technologies, and help define the next generation of products and manufacturing processes.
“Since high-performance polymeric AM is still emerging, collaborations with experts in these areas at CALM and the MTC allows organisations such as Thales to stay at the forefront of knowledge and application developments. Such collaborations are also important for developing the skills of our design engineers.”
Dr Philip O’Gara, materials engineer at Thales UK
“This has been a great chance to collaborate with both the MTC and Thales to demonstrate the opportunity that exists within this growing sector of Additive Manufacturing.”
The collaboration also brings together knowledge from the different partners to deliver solutions with commercial opportunities. Collaborative research is ongoing to further expand the range of materials and processes available, whilst optimising them for emerging applications.