ESA Intern Derek Aranguren Van Egmond has been working with the latest addition to ESA’s Materials and Electrical Components Laboratory, a new 3D printer that can print all available thermoplastics and in particular engineering hard plastics such as ‘PEEK’.
PEEK, short for Polyether ether ketone, is a thermoplastic that has very robust mechanical properties in terms of strength, stability, wear and temperature resistance – so strong in fact that PEEK parts can actually do comparable jobs to some metal parts.
This opens up the prospect of producing customised 3D-printed parts that can actually stand up to the extreme conditions encountered in space. Up until now plastic 3D printers have used much weaker plastics, such as ABS and PLA, usually employed for making toys or parts with non-structural functionality. The PEEK 3D printer at the Lab is only the second ever built, manufactured by a small German company called Indmatec.
Many ESA projects are interested in the possibility of using 3D-printed PEEK parts. But what must first be investigated is whether the process of 3D-printing the PEEK parts changes its mechanical properties compared to standard production methods, potentially weakening it.
So Derek, working with materials and processes technology specialist Ugo Lafont, has been printing various different test items, including subjects destined for mechanical testing – to be pulled apart by dedicated machines – as well as the bolt and screw seen printed here.