Whilst Corbion (NL) is strategically moving downstream from lactic acid into polylactic acid (PLA) to become second supplier, the pioneer PLA supplier in commercial quantities, NatureWorks, based in Minnesota (USA), is pushing its leadership position forward. During the last 18 months, it has communicated directly with 3D filament suppliers, printer manufacturers and print operators to receive the best feedback possible on the requirements of the 3D printing market.
The Company has recently announced a new, “three-pronged” approach to supporting the growth and development of the 3D printing industry. This “broad new initiative” will reportedly introduce an unprecedented series of Ingeo™ grades that will be optimized for PLA filament, as well as a full suite of technical support services for leading 3D printer and filament producers; and a brand new in-house print lab that the Company says will enable them to efficiently test new Ingeo™ formulations and collaborate with printer and filament producers. The Company has more than 20 different Ingeo™ grades already, as well as expertise in several specialized formulations and over 10 years experience in global production experience.
NatureWorks will immediately begin to offer the first grade in its new Ingeo 3D series, Ingeo 3D850, with extended-property-range Ingeo 3D resin formulations. It is said to provide a “good overall balance of process-ability in filament production, filament consistency and print quality. Additionally, the Company affirms that it is designed to provide optimum performance for users who want to enhance PLA’s base properties. It is said that PLA has become a “material of first choice” in the 3D printing industry, as its low polymer thermal shrinkage enables high resolution printing for part accuracy, and prevents part warping. It is easy to use, and enhances performance. Its low melt point makes low temperature printing safer, and low emissions reduce unpleasant odors while 3D printing.
Dan Sawyer, Global Leader of New Business Segment at NatureWorks explains: “3D printing has the rapid pace of innovation, development, and change that is normal to a new and still nascent market. Many new suppliers are entering the PLA filament market, while a breadth of experienced suppliers large and small are formulating and compounding to provide additional filament properties and options. That’s the sort of innovation that NatureWorks is aggressively moving to support and amplify with our new broad-based initiative.” Sawyer concluded: “What we learned from our market engagement is that a large segment of the market prefers to print with PLA and would like to replace petroleum-based ABS if PLA can rival the other material’s heat resistance and the toughness of finished parts.”
The Company also says that PLA filament produced from new higher heat and toughness Ingeo™ formulations are currently undergoing testing in the new in-house print lab, with “market introduction” expected later this year. The new NatureWorks 3D printing lab’s series of printers are said to help “assess the performance and quality” of the new Ingeo™ formulations, from printer operation to final model. According to NatureWorks, the lab shortens “time to market” and aids in collaboration with other firms.
NatureWorks is jointly owned by Thailand’s largest chemical producer, PTT Global Chemical, and Cargill, which provides food, agriculture, financial and industrial products and services to the world.