Since the emergence of additive manufacturing, the material PA12 has made a name for itself as a lightweight, robust and resistant plastic for private and industrial 3D printing. However, PA12 has been known for much longer under a different name: Nylon. In addition to its use in the manufacture of women’s stockings, PA12 has conquered additional applications and markets.

In 3D printing, PA12 usually appears as a white, opaque powder or as a filament. Both can be processed with common and established 3D printing technologies. It is one of the most widely printed materials in the world, and the trend is still on the rise. Thanks to properties such as good abrasion resistance and chemical resistance, the automotive industry has also been quick to take advantage of the material.

The Wohlers Report 2022, a respected annual industry report, notes that around €2.6 billion were spent on 3D printing materials in 2021 – including metals, filaments, photopolymers and polymer powders. Polymer powders claim the majority of the pie at 34.7%. Followed by photopolymers (25.2%), filaments (19.9%), then metals (18.2%) and other materials (2.0%). Of course, other plastics such as PA6 or PP can also be found among the polymer powders, but these often pose processing problems. As a result, PA12 has become a standard in the 3D printing industry. Let’s take a closer look at the material.

What is PA12?

PA12 belongs to the polyamide family, a group of plastics composed of very long molecular chains, which themselves consist of repeating monomers. The 12 in the name polyamide 12 stands for the number of carbon atoms per monomer. PA12 was discovered around 1935 by Wallace Carothers, a US chemist. While it was initially used mainly for the manufacture of toothbrushes, the first women’s stockings made of nylon came onto the market around 1940.

In additive manufacturing, PA12 entered the scene around the same time as additive manufacturing itself: The mid-1980s. Thus, the first 3D printing technologies and 3D printing trials were already using polyamides to produce smaller prototypes. The PA12 material is one of the thermoplastics that can be deformed when heat is applied and remain in their new shape after cooling. This process can also be repeated in thermoplastics, unlike thermosets, in which the molecular structure is destroyed when heat is applied. Polyamide 12 is obtained petrochemically from crude oil or natural gas. However, there are also newer bio-based processes. For example, PA12 can be obtained from palm kernel oil.

Why is PA12 so well suited for 3D printing?

As a 3D printing material, PA12 is one of the most widely used plastics in additive manufacturing. It can be processed as filament, powder or resin with all established 3D printing technologies such as the FDM 3D printing processthe SLS process and the HSS process for 3D printing, as well as SLA 3D printing. Nylon’s thermoplastic properties make it particularly suitable for 3D printers that use heat to deform or bond the material.

The property profile of PA12 also includes very good flowability, which is crucial for precise layer application in powder bed-based 3D printing technologies. In addition, PA12 is characterized by its high chemical resistance, toughness and tensile strength at low temperatures, and its very good frictional properties. This qualifies nylon or PA12 for use in various industries.

For which 3D printers is PA12 suitable?

The most common 3D printers for processing PA12 can be found in the ranks of FDM, SLS and HSS. In FDM 3D printing, PA12 is drawn as a filament through a heated nozzle. It is melted in this nozzle and then deposited layer by layer on a build platform.

In the SLS process, PA12 comes in powder form. The powder is laid out on a build platform and then sintered layer by layer with a laser according to the CAD data set. Unsintered powder remains loose and can be recycled and reused.

The HSS process is also powder-based. But unlike SLS, the powder bed is inked with an infrared light-absorbing ink and then irradiated with IR (infrared) energy. The colored areas absorb the energy and fuse together, while uncolored powder remains loose and can be recycled and reused after 3D printing.

What is made from PA12 in 3D printing?

For which products, prototypes or components PA12 is suitable in 3D printing depends strongly on the respective application industry. In the fashion industry, nylon is anything but unknown, especially in connection with ladies’ stockings. 3D printing with nylon, on the other hand, is something special. For example, shoes, dresses, skirts or various smaller elements are 3D printed from nylon.

In the automotive or aerospace industries, 3D printing with PA12 is suitable for prototyping in the classic sense, for example, to test a design in a wind tunnel, but also for printing gears, interior parts or brackets, and much more.

Since it is considered to be particularly dimensionally stable and can withstand pressure and impact, it is also used for line linings (hydraulic, fuel or cooling lines). In winter sports, PA12 is often found in the form of ski bindings or ski boots. 3D-printed PA12 components are also used in mechanical engineering at voxeljet. For example, we print various machine components such as sensor holders, light wave holders or print head covers on our HSS systems.

You can read about the behavior of other materials in 3D printing here:

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