ULTEM: All You Need to Know About Markforged ULTEM 9085

Markforged just took a massive step as a company. Recently, the Massachusetts startup introduced their most powerful machine up to date, the Markorged FX20. Just as they claim, this machine is significantly bigger, faster and smarter when compared to their …

Alejandro Auerbach

December 20, 2021

Markforged just took a massive step as a company. Recently, the Massachusetts startup introduced their most powerful machine up to date, the Markorged FX20. Just as they claim, this machine is significantly bigger, faster and smarter when compared to their flagship X7. More importantly, the FX20 is hotter.

With an 8kW power capacity and a robust build, capable of withstanding extreme temperatures, the FX20 introduces a potent temperature control system through a heated chamber up to 200°C in steady-state. Ultimately, these specifications enable this machine to successfully print reinforced ULTEM 9085 parts, officially setting Markforged’s into the high-performance polymers market.

So, what’s the deal with the FX20’s ULTEM 9085 capabilities? To answer this question, let’s break down some of the core aspects regarding this new Markforged material. For more information on the FX20’s capabilities, check this article.

What’s the Deal with High-Performance Thermoplastics?

To better picture what sets apart these materials as a category of their own, taking into consideration a thermoplastics pyramid is always helpful.

Among all the commercially available thermoplastics, Ultem (PEI) and other alternatives like PEEK, PEKK, and PPSU are at the top of the rankings given their exceptional thermal, mechanical and chemical performances. However, these advantages come together with higher processing temperatures and overall costs.

What sets apart these materials? As it happens in most cases, the answer lies in chemistry. These materials’ unique polymer structures, based on aromatic rings, is the secret behind their outstanding strength at high temperatures, chemical resistance, with superb durability against hydrolysis and radiation. Furthermore, they are excellent as electrical insulators and as inherent flame retardants, typically meeting the UL94 V-0 FST (Flame, Smoke, Toxicity) test rating.

These materials are not only costly but hard to print since they tend to warp and delaminate a lot! Therefore, a heated chamber and extrusion temperatures above 300 °C are required to achieve a successful print with optimal precision and layer adhesion. High-performance thermoplastics are also particularly hygroscopic; thus, storage management and drying cycles are standard practices in industrial 3D printing. Markforged, being highly aware of this issue, invested a lot of effort to implement a spool cabinet with sophisticated moisture controls.  

High-performance polymers meet the requirements of demanding industries like:

  • Transportation: Both the aerospace and automotive industries
  • Medical: Chemically stable and able to withstand autoclave sterilisation
  • Oil & energy: This industry works with harsh chemicals and strict FST security standards
  • Manufacturing: Durable tooling applications
  • Functional prototypes

The Benefits of ULTEM 9085

Polyetherimide (PEI) is an amorphous high-performance thermoplastic produced by SABIC under the ULTEM trademark. Among other thermoplastics, ULTEM offers one of the highest glass transition temperatures in the market. Currently, two ULTEM variants are commercially available, ULTEM 1010 and ULTEM 9085.

As an alternative to the more established PEEK, ULTEM is highly cost-effective (Available for up to a third of PEEKs price) and easier to print. PEEK is a semi-crystalline polymer (As opposed to amorphous polymers), which is a significant advantage in terms of performance. However, this advantage is also its greatest disadvantage. As PEEK crystallises, it shrinks, causing delamination, warping and dimensional inaccuracies; printing large parts is nearly impossible. ULTEM, on the contrary, enables optimum fusion within layers and superior dimensional stability.

So, why ULTEM 9085 instead of ULTEM 1010? In reality, both materials are fairly similar. While ULTEM 1010 is better in terms of stiffness and thermal properties, ULTEM 9085 has superior impact resistance properties and printability. Nonetheless, the main advantage of ULTEM 9085 is its broader adoption in additive manufacturing for aerospace applications.

Aerospace Potential

AM companies like Stratasys have been promoting this material for many years now, and powerhouse aerospace companies like Boeing, Airbus and Lockheed Martin greatly value interior component parts made with ULTEM 9085. The aerospace industry dramatically benefits from materials that could offer the best possible strength-to-weight ratios. ULTEM 9085 not only fulfils this requirement spectacularly, but it is also resistant to fluids like fuels, coolants and lubricants.

Among its many applications in aerospace, the following components are some examples:

  • Interior components: Wall panels, cabinet doors, latches, spare parts
  • Behind the walls: Ducting, housing, connectors, brackets
  • Finish components: Enclosures, mounts, plugs, handles, bumpers

The aerospace industry is overwhelmingly strict regarding security certifications, especially involving flame retardancy; meaning that aerospace components must comply with regulations from institutions like FAA or EASA. Thankfully plenty of progress has been made with ULTEM 9085 since it meets FAR 25.853 (Fire safety for interior components) and OSU 55/55 (Heat release rate) certifications. Furthermore, ULTEM 9085 is the only AM material approved under the NCAMP process, an open framework with traceable data to ease part certification practices.

markforged aerospace 3d printing
Markforged Aerospace 3D Printing.

New Possibilities for Markforged

Markforged, as a leading composite printing company, is opening a promising future by combining high-performance printing with its own CFR technique. New possibilities take ULTEM 9085 outstanding performances to a whole other level, just as Markforged CEO Shai Terem stated:

“By helping move composites toward robust production, we’ll unlock more functional parts, made of stronger materials of even more impressive size, with applications from the factory floor to flight.”

The FX20 not only opens new possibilities regarding part functionality but also adds “big, fast and smart” to the equation. This machine is stuffed with sensors and extreme precision components to guarantee top quality through an automatic learning curve. In fact, Markforged is known for its particular emphasis on adaptive quality features. Ultimately, we can say that users can be confident to work with tools that provide optimal use of ULTEM 9085.

What can we expect in the future? It is no secret the effort Markforged has put into the aerospace sector. Just a few months ago, the company released a new set of FR-A materials, which are currently undergoing the NCAMP process. So, wouldn’t it be game-changing to have a fully traceable certification for reinforced ULTEM 9085 parts?

As a last thought, Carbon filled ULTEM 9085 has been a tendency in additive manufacturing lately given it enhances part stiffness and improves printability, surface finishes, and dimensional stability. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Markforged releases an Onyx-like material based on ULTEM 9085 in the near future. What else could we expect from Markforged? Who knows?

Markforged FX20 along with its massive ULTEM 9085 3200cc (~4 kg) spools are set for sale sometime around the first half of 2022. For further details and future release updates, the team of experts at Solid Print is here to help you. Please call Solid Print at 01926 333 777 or email info@solidprint3d.co.uk.

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