Materials choice for the desktop these days goes way beyond the ABS and PLA offerings that spawned the millions of now discarded Eiffel Tower prints; we have materials that are magnetic, that glow in the dark, that are heat resistant, we have flexible elastomers, we have materials that smell, materials that look and feel like wood; the list goes on.
So in a veritable bottomless pit of choice how do you pick which filament you need? In a survey conducted to the Google Plus 3D Printing Community’s some 300,000 users (fig.1), it appears that brand loyalty totally trumps affordability. With experimentation beating the cheapest option by a solitary vote (at the time of writing).
Just last week I experimented with a polycarbonate sample I was handed at a trade show to make some sturdy legs for an old cabinet that I was upcycling. Using an old UP! Plus, printed using the ABS settings, it worked. Sure, there were imperfections on the surface but the fact that it was pretty monolithic and designed to be hidden from vision meant aesthetics weren’t of utmost importance. The problem is I don’t recall the brand name and it was on a generic spool, so I can’t really go about recommending it.
But even if I were to write a rave review of this particular material the problem many encounter is variability. You might get a great spool of filament, go back to order the same one and find your next batch of prints are inconsistent, which is why when users find a good 3D printing filament that works you stick to it. Reliability is key…
Reliability and accuracy is, according to Verbatim, largely down to diameter control and the Mitshubishi Chemical owned company says that its diameter control is unmatchable in the current 3D printing market.
“Our filament process is much tighter,” says Business Development Manager, Shigeyuki Furomoto “It is made in Japan, which guarantees a certain quality and when we have ran a comparison with competitors’ filament our diameter control is much better, tests show that we can control within 20 micron.”
One of the reasons Verbatim is able to offer such impressive results is the sheer scope of the partners it is able to call on from under the umbrella of Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings Group - one of the world’s largest chemical companies. One such partnership is with Mitsubishi’s fibre division, Mitsubishi Rayon, who help with a filtration system for the mass-production of filament.
“Rayon use water filters made with ultrafine polyethylene, these very fine tubes allow water to go through the walls and filter out the very fine microbes,” explains Furomoto. “This process has been developed by Rayon for over 40 years and the cross-pollination within Mitsubishi allows us to maintain high quality.”
That Rayon development is actually used in another of Verbatim’s consumer products, Cleansui Water Filters, you know ones you fill up with tap water and store it in the fridge to purify it and keep it chilled. Verbatim’s cash cow is consumer goods, in particular optical storage, and it has identified 3D printing materials as a market it has the tools to exploit. Over the last three years the company has developed and released a range of materials, starting with high-quality PLA and ABS offerings as well as a flexible material called Primalloy.
"Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings develops millions of polymer products from consumer to engineering plastics,” says Furomoto. “Our basic strategy is cherry picking these plastics and adapt them for 3D printing because they have all been through regulatory tests and are already certified by government. If a customer wants to modify something, of course, we can design a tailor-made polymer, we have the ability to do formulas and compounding very quickly."
Take the Verbatim PLA for instance, the company identified that some of the problems with regularly PLA filament include brittleness and a lack of transparency, “we were able to put in some special additives into the filament so that we can reinforce it for functional applications, our PLA is not brittle."
BVOH and PLA object.
The next step
Furomoto and his team recently exhibited at TCT Show in Birmingham showcasing those tightly controlled filaments as well as a host of new samples of materials. Before launching any material Verbatim, study the market and its competitors before calling on the material science might that is behind them.
“This month, Verbatim will launch a PET material,” says Furomoto. “PET is very well-known in the food packaging industry and Mitshubishi Chemical are one the leading suppliers. We cherry picked from the best pellets, so our PET is already certified and very safe. Compared to other PET materials on the filament market, which are mostly PETG, our PET filament is much more transparent because it is is made from the same raw material as PET bottles where transparency is very important.”
After PET the next material the company are tackling is a soluble material that Verbatim say is far superior to other materials on the market like PVA. Verbatim’s recipe, BVOH, dissolves three times faster than other soluble support materials and it has been able to make the filament much more resistant to moisture when not stored correctly - a problem anyone who has printed using PVA knows all too well.
After some time in the market it is clear that Verbatim understand what its customer-base needs, but with Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings Group’s far-reaching tentacles does Verbatim just see it sticking to the usual consumer customer or does it see an opportunity to collaborate on more industrial scale projects? Perhaps a tailor-made material to specific a specific application?
“We have developed five materials so far,” says the Furomoto. “But Mitsubishi Chemical has lots of opportunities to develop more engineering plastics. In the near future we will be going towards engineering plastics like polycarbonate and nylon. We sell a lot of pellets to injection moulding companies. If a customer has already used our materials and wants to use it for 3D printing, they will only need to make some small modifications. I think we will see our (3D printing) materials used for mass production.”