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Issue 05/2015

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Report By: Sander

Report By: Sander Strijbos Helian Polymers Venlo, The Netherlands 3D printing – the sophisticated way Additive technologies appear to be here to stay. In recent years, 3D printing has become a daily staple of news publications around the world. Creating objects by building up successive layers of molten plastics, a fraction of a millimeter at a time, has captured the imagination of hobbyists, designers, architects and prototypers everywhere. In discussions about 3D printing, a recurring topic is that of the dearth of materials that are available for use. Currently, the two commodities that tend to be most frequently used in 3D printing filament are ABS and PLA. It was this latter material, a well-known biopolyester, that opened the door for a company called Helian Polymers to enter the world of 3D printing. Founded in 2011 by Ruud Rouleaux as a sister company of the trading company Peter Holland BV, Helian Polymers is located in Venlo, The Netherlands. The focus of the new company was on innovative projects related to (bio)plastics and additives, one of the first of which became 3D printing. After becoming intrigued by a self-built Ultimaker 3D printer around Christmas 2011, Rouleaux bought a small extrusion machine in 2012. An expert in bioplastics, he wondered why PLA was used so often, in the light of its comparably poor functional properties. And not content with the general consensus that “it prints well”, Rouleaux, who was not one to shy away from a challenge, set out to find a better solution. By early 2013, and after much trial and error, Rouleaux had come up with an ideal blend of two bioplastics: PLA and PHA. A stroke of luck was that, as the owner of a trading company specializing in masterbatches and additives, he also had ready access to a wide pallete of colors for his new filament material, which he therefore opted from the very beginning to market in almost 30 colors – an almost unheard of range. In February 2013, the colorFabb brand of 3D printing filament was born. After the initial launch at the RapidPro trade show in Veldhoven Bicycle-Components 3D-printed with carbon fibre reinforced XT-CF20 filament (non-bio co-polyester) 32 bioplastics MAGAZINE [05/15] Vol. 10

Report (the Netherlands), the webshop went live in March. The first resellers, thirsty for something new, signed up in April and by May, the single extrusion line was already at full capacity – and has been ever since. In hindsight, 2013 was a pilot year for the new brand, during which the webshop grew, lessons were learned and the number of employees doubled to six. That first year, too, colorFabb attended the 3D Print Show in November in London where a new grade of wood filament based on the company’s proprietary PLA/PHA compound was showcased. Branded as woodFill, the filament is made with actual wood fibers, giving printed objects the texture and smell of wood and an old-school DIY look. It was an immediate success, and colorFabb understood that the future of 3D printing filaments was in special filaments. “The best way to predict the future is to invent it”, as Ruud Rouleaux put it. As colorFabb went from strength to strength, meanwhile expanding and relocating to the Blue Innovation Center in Venlo, it also signed a joint development agreement with Eastman Chemical company, under which the company would develop filaments based on the co-polyesters made by the US chemical giant. This resulted, in September 2014, in the launch of colorFabb XT, made with Eastman Amphora 3D Polymer, a more functional material for desktop 3D printing. In the eyes of the 3D printing community, however, color‐ Fabb’s most spectacular product had been released a few months earlier, in May 2014. Called bronzeFill, it is a PLA/ PHA based composite 3D printing filament with 80 % (by weight) bronze particles and was launched to great acclaim at the Fabcon trade fair in Erfurt, Germany. What sets bronzeFill apart is the fact that objects can be post-processed – polished, tumbled etc. – to bring out the true bronze qualities of the material. Appearance, weight and feel are all that of a real bronze object – at a fraction of the cost. As compounding PLA/PHA with specially-sourced bronze particles requires very specific skills and processes, colorFabb sought out and partnered with Witcom BV, a Dutch specialist in engineering plastics compounds whose expertise has long proven invaluable for colorFabb’s specialty filaments. The collaboration has yielded an innovative suite of products for FDM printing, including bronzeFill. Since then, colorFabb has further expanded its offerings to include bambooFill, which is pre-compounded by Willich, Germany-based bioplastics producer FKuR, and copperFill, a new metal filament composed of 20 % PLA/PHA material and 80 % micronized copper particles, that, like bronzeFill, can be sanded and polished after printing. These were soon followed by the release of yet another metal-filled PLA/ PHA-based material, called brassFill, the most complex filament to date in terms of processing and printing. While these specialty filaments were mainly decorative in nature, meanwhile, colorFabb has also delivered on the side of functionality. Earlier this year, the company released its XT-CF20 filament, a new product compounded by Witcom on the basis of Eastman’s Amphora 3D Polymer with 20 % carbon fiber, to add stiffness, functionality and dimensional stability to prints and for construction parts. As proof of concept, an intern at colorFabb has even printed bicycle parts with this material. With in-house bioplastics expertise and all capabilities under one roof to develop and test materials of every kind on different brands of 3D printers, colorFabb is fast fulfilling its mission to bring innovative and unique materials to the market – and the possibilities for the future are sheer endless. Moreover, the close cooperation with material partners FKuR and Eastman, combined with the flexible and highly dedicated colorFabb team enable colorFabb, to bring a new product to market sometimes in a matter of mere weeks. In fact, at any given time, several materials are in various stages of testing at colorFabb’s print lab, as colorFabb continues to innovate with more and more materials. At Helian Polymers new developments are in the works regarding bioplastics. More on that in the next issue of this magazine. brassFill – post-processed and polished bioplastics MAGAZINE [05/15] Vol. 10 33

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