Polymaker has a number of outstanding members, all sharing the four core values of Polymaker: Responsibility, Entrepreneurship, Customer Orientation, and Embracing Innovation. These core values help promote the company’s continuous growth and fuel the launch of breakthrough 3D printing materials. In order to let the people know more about Polymaker, we decided to launch an internal interview series called – Inside Polymaker. These articles will introduce members from Polymaker’s different teams and positions, their stories at Polymaker, their insights into 3D printing technology, and answering questions from the Polymaker community.
In the first round of interviews, we choose Polymaker’s R&D team.
The R&D team was chosen because Polymaker has long been focused on the development of 3D printed materials and has continuously introduced market-leading products from toughened PolyMax™ PLA in 2013 to carbon fiber reinforced PolyMide™ PA6-CF released this year. If you imagine the production team to be the beating heart of Polymaker, then the R&D team are the stomach, constantly processing new ideas and feeding production with innovative 3D printing materials, allowing Polymaker to survive by constantly innovating and pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with 3D printing.
Here is a shortlist of some of the achievements the R&D team has completed over the years:
An easy-to-print Polycarbonate filament PolyLite™ PC and PolyMax™ PC in 2015. In 2016, PolySmooth™ and Polysher™ were introduced as a solution to create layer-free prints. In the same year, PolyCast™, a 3D printing material for metal casting, was launched. PolyMide™ CoPA, a warp-free nylon material, was released in 2018 and many more developments in between. All these achievements come from the innovation and efforts of the scientists and engineers in the Polymaker R&D team. Every Polymaker product starts with R&D and their strength is vital to the competitiveness of Polymaker.
This article is an interview with Zhao Junheng, the Head of the R&D department.
Q1: Please introduce your educational background, work experience and hobbies.
I majored in Polymer Material Science and graduated in 2011. After graduating, I worked on cable materials development for 3 years. Then I joined Polymaker in August 2014. At that time, Polymaker had only 2 offices, and now there are 3 buildings. My main hobby now is to practice playing the piano with my daughter.
Q2: Please introduce your position and responsibilities at Polymaker.
Polymaker’s R&D department is divided into three groups. I am the leader of the G1 team. I am responsible for the development of engineering plastics for 3D printing, mainly nylon and PC materials, as well as material testing and laboratory management.
Q3: What is your best experience when working at Polymaker?
Polymaker invests a lot in R&D, and basically, all our requirements and needs can be met, so we don’t need to worry about R&D funding. Our president Dr. Luo is a scientist with a lot of knowledge and practical experience in the field of polymer science. He will often guide and join the discussion in research and development so that we can make progress quickly. In addition, R&D has a relatively free arrangement of work and time, which allows me great satisfaction balancing my work and personal life.
Q4: What is your opinion on the status quo and development of 3D printing technology?
Although 3D printing business is growing rapidly in the consumer market currently, I am still optimistic about the future development of industrial-grade engineering plastic for 3D printing applications.
If 3D printing technology is divided into small size, medium-size and large size, then FFF technology has more advantages in medium size and large size 3D printing, such as low cost, fast printing speed, more kinds of material choices, and the requirements for dimensional accuracy are less strict.
In terms of small-size 3D printing, the disadvantage of FFF technology’s relatively poor dimensional accuracy is difficult to overcome. However, for some applications such as jigs and fixtures, which are not large in size, have no excessive requirements on dimensional accuracy, and have high requirements on mechanical properties and heat resistance of materials, FFF technology still has advantages, like low cost and a wide variety of engineering plastics to choose from.
Polymaker is not a merely production company, but a 3D printing materials manufacturer who has a strong R&D capability in developing polymer formulas. Polymaker products have always been a leader in industrial applications and engineering plastics; Polymaker has the advantage in both medium and large size 3D printing. The two 3D printing bridge projects in collaboration with Shanghai Construction Group and Coin Robotics are good examples.
Q5: What is an important project recently done? Please briefly introduce this project.
There are two important projects recently, one is to develop the easy-to-remove support of PC series materials, and the other is to develop a flame-retardant nylon material. We currently have several nylon materials (PolyMide™ CoPA, PolyMide™ PA6-CF, PolyMide™ PA6-GF) and matching support materials (PolyDissolve™ S1). We will soon release several new PC materials. We can provide customers with a complete engineering material solution when we have matching supporting materials for PC 3D printing materials as well as our nylon products.
Q6: Please answer some questions from the Polymaker Community:
1) What is your favorite filament?
N600, a nylon 6 filament in our industrial product range, has a balance of performance and printability. It does not require a heated building plate or cavity heating. The only requirement is that the nozzle needs to be heated to 300 °C.
2) Which printer are you using to test your materials?
I really like the 3D Platform. The machine has a large printing volume and a good dimensional accuracy, and it is easy to operate. I often use our 3D Platform printer in the lab to print our nylon material, which works very well.
3) How many iterations does it take to arrive at the final formula?
For example, the formula of PolyDissolve™ S1 iterates about 50-70 times, which is a relatively normal number of formula iterations.
4) How long did it take to develop Warp-Free technology?
Polymaker’s Warp-Free™ technology actually involves not only the formulation, but also the production process, so it is not easy to answer this question accurately.
5) What are you working on at the moment?
Development of easy-to-remove support for PC materials and flame-retardant nylon materials.
6) What is the biggest challenge when designing a filament?
It should be the design of the formula. When designing the formula, it will go smoothly as long as the train of thought is correct. It will waste a lot of time if you think in the wrong way at first.
7) What was the hardest technology to develop? Which material technology is the most difficult to develop so far?
Because it is my job to develop new materials, I don’t think any of them is hard. If you have me to pick one of the hardest, it should be Layer-Free™ technology. Because this technology is not only a matter of materials but also a problem of developing hardware. When we developed PolySmooth™, there was no matching polishing machine on the market. In order to provide a complete solution, we decided to develop a polishing machine. This whole process is very difficult.
8) Can we make PolySmooth less moisture sensitive? Can I reduce the tendency of PolySmooth to absorb moisture?
This is the nature of raw materials, so there is no good way to improve it. This is one of the reasons we launched PolyBox™.
9) Which project did you feel most proud of?
Warp-Free™ technology. There are many types of nylon, and this technology can apply to all of them. For industrial market users, we can apply Warp-Free™ technology to any kind of nylon material they need.
10) What material had the longest development time?
Should be the flame-retardant nylon. The project was kicked off quietly early, but we have not pushed it forward, resulting in the longest development cycle so far.
11) Any plans to create a PC/ABS blend? Is there a plan to develop a PC-ABS material?
We have already developed it. It should be launched soon.
12) Can you come up with a nylon filament that has the layer adhesion of a TPU? Can you develop a nylon wire with a layer bonding force such as TPU?
There seems to be a misunderstanding, but I think I can understand. Our nylon material interlayer bonding strength is stronger than TPU. Because the TPU is a soft material, when it is elongated in the z-axis direction, it will undergo a large deformation before crack, which seems to be a strong interlayer bonding strength. But in fact, the amount of tension it can withstand is not as good as nylon.
13) Any plans on making Metallic PolySmooth in a somewhat near future?
This should be determined by the Product Department. For the R&D department, as long as there is a demand like this, we can fulfill it.