The rapid unwinding and consolidation in the global plastics industry is happening so fast that it seems major technology innovations are in danger of getting caught in the shuffle. Example: three to four years ago LPKF Laser and Electronics signed licensing agreements with BASF, Ticona, Degussa, and Bayer to develop materials that could be used in laser direct sintering. Most importantly, the materials need to incorporate laser-sensitive additives that contain metal. The plastics are then treated with lasers that engrave conducting tracks on the molded component. The parts are then metallized. The process is booming despite the fact that previous efforts at molded interconnect devices stalled, primarily due to high cost of tooling and equipment for two-shot processes. But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum. Bayer spun out its polyester business to a new company called Lanxess, and Degussa last fall became part of a company called Evonik Industries, a major specialty chemical company. Lanxess didn’t seem to lose a beat, and even introduced a new application last year. It’s less clear what’s happening with the Degussa project.
An in-depth survey of 700 current and future users of 3D printing holds few surprises, but results emphasize some major trends already in progress. Two standouts are the big growth in end-use parts and metal additive manufacturing (AM) most respondents expect.
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