Two of the leading names in thermoplastic filament manufacturing have formed a powerful partnership, hoping to play an essential role in the industry. There are now over 300,000 thermoplastic extrusion printers in the world, with a total annual filament market of $250m in 2015. More information about the market is given in the IDTechEx research report, 3D Printing Materials 2015-2025: Status, Opportunities, Market Forecasts.
Recently, Fenner Drives spun out its successful NinjaFlex flexible 3D printing line into an entire subsidiary called NinjaTek, with six full-time employees. They have been extruding polyurethanes for over 50 years, and made their first TPU 3D printing filament in autumn 2013. Their experience in formulation and extrusion helps to make their filaments consistent and reliable. They have patented the process to create a low-friction, non-tacky, textured surface on Ninjaflex, so it can be extruded more easily. They have over 100 resellers globally, and sell via well-known 3D printer OEMs including Printrbot, Leapfrog and Lulzbot. It has a market in applications that require high elasticity, high impact resistance or high energy absorption, such as vibration damping, seals, toys and custom grips for robotics.
Image 1. Example of an object 3D printed using NinjaFlex filament. Source: NinjaTek
Now, NinjaTek has joined up with another one of the original pioneers of specifically formulated 3D printing materials, taulman3D, so that both companies will sell each other's products. Taulman 3D are best known for unusual polymers, such as Nylon 645 and PETT. Nylon is a very popular engineering plastic due to its physical strength. Taulman3D shipped their first spool of thermoplastic filament in December 2012. Taulman3D sell their range of thermoplastic filaments through 50 resellers worldwide, on consumer websites such as Amazon, and larger quantities direct to industrial users. Over half of their sales are to industrial users.
Image 2. Taulman 3D Nylon 618 spool and objects made from it. Source: Taulman 3D
Together, the two companies can provide all of the materials necessary for durable industrial products and flexible components, like seals and gaskets, for prototyping and short-run manufacturing. Prototyping is still the primary reason for around 70% of 3D printer purchases.
The materials market for 3D printing is going to reach $1.2 billion in 2015, and is expected to rise to $10.6 billion by 2025. New formulations of existing materials, with the properties and form factors required for 3D printing, are being developed all the time. Most of the major chemical companies are getting involved and setting themselves up to take advantage of this growth. However, both these brands have a strong reputation in the 3D printing community. It is likely they will remain strong businesses, even as the industry grows and ever more powerful players enter.