PEEK, also known as Poly Ether Etherketone, is seeing increasing use in 3D printing in recent times, but has been around since the 1980s. Offering fantastic mechanical properties, and as strong as steel by volume despite being 80% lighter, PEEK 3D printing is fast becoming adopted for a variety of industrial weight-saving applications.
With patents expiring for a number of innovations necessary for PEEK 3D printing, mostly concerning heated chambers to keep temperature consistent, PEEK 3D printer filament has seen an increase in use, with a number of specialist industrial 3D printers developed with PEEK filament in mind.
PEEK is also increasingly combined with other materials such as carbon fiber to create strong composite materials for industrial uses.
3D Printing Properties & recommendations
PEEK melts at around 343C, with a glass transition temperature of 143C – both much higher than standard 3D printer filaments. As a result, you’ll need an all-metal hot end and very high-end nozzle such as a hardened steel nozzle.
Minimum extruder temperatures are around 360C, and you may need to be higher at 400-450C depending on the filament and other factors.
You will also need an enclosed, heated chamber. PEEK filament is very sensitive to even slight changes in temperature, so a heated chamber is required. You should also ensure printing cannot be affected by any extraneous variables like sunlight.
PEEK is prone to warping, so you will need a heated bed heated to a minimum 120C, preferably 120-150C.
For build surface to enhance adhesion, glue stick, hairspray or Kapton tape work.
A recommendation is to print slower with PEEK. This ensures better quality and consistent parts with less errors — which are very expensive to make using PEEK filament.
Best PEEK filaments
PEEK filament is expensive — around $300-500 per kilo — but the benefits are clear: extremely high quality parts can be produced. We recommend the following PEEK filaments for use in high-quality rapid prototyping projects:
- Matterhackers PEEK filaments
- 3DXTECH CarbonX PEEK filament
- 3DXTECH ThermaX PEEK filament
- 3DJake UK & Europe PEEK filament selection
Advantages of PEEK filament
- Fantastic strength and mechanical properties: not only is PEEK hugely strong, but it also resists chemicals well, such as acetone which heavily affects ABS.
- High temperature resistance: commonly used in applications where it may be heated over 200C, without any adverse reaction.
- Sterilization uses: PEEK doesn’t react badly to steam or boiling water, so is ideal for applications where it needs to be sterilized. PEEK is increasingly adopted in the medical and dental industries for a variety of implants as a result.
- Lightweight: offers steel-like strength, at a fraction of the weight. In sectors where weight saving directly translates into larger profits, such as in aerospace, PEEK is replacing heavier aluminium parts.
- High quality prototyping: PEEK is the best filament for the rapid prototyping 3D printing of functional parts that need to be tested under extreme conditions.
Disadvantages of PEEK filament
- Difficult to print: PEEK requires extremely high extruder temperatures, with a heated bed and precisely managed heated chamber. Imperfections can easily occur if any factors deviate from their optimum.
- Expensive: PEEK is one of the most expensive materials you can 3D print with. Commonly a kilo of PEEK filament will cost upwards of $500. Therefore, it is reserved for high value added industrial applications rather than beginner 3D printing.
- Lack of color options: unlike with filaments like PLA, you are restricted to mostly white, beige or black parts with PEEK.
- UV resistance: somewhat susceptible to UV radiation, though PEEK has good X-ray resistance.
- Struggles with chemicals like chlorine and sulfur.
Best PEEK 3D Printers
Most PEEK 3D printers are industrial machines, requiring skilled operators and costing tens of thousands of dollars. Recently however, lower cost 3D printers have emerged that can 3D print PEEK. We will discuss one particularly specialized PEEK 3D printer below.
Intamsys Funmat HT PEEK 3D printer
- Price: $5,999 — Available on Matterhackers USA here / Available on 3DJake UK & Europe here / Dynamism here
- Build volume: 260 x 260 x 260 mm
The Intamsys Funmat HT comes with a specialized thermal system including a heated temperature chamber, heated bed and high temperature extruder with an all-metal hot end, all designed to accommodate PEEK 3D printing, as well as PEI and ULTEM.
As well as 3D printing PEEK, the Intamsys Funmat HT can also print standard filaments such as PLA, ABS and PETG, shipping with two hot ends depending on ifyou want to print these standard filaments, or engineering-grade filaments like PEEK and ULTEM.
It’s accurate, with layer thicknesses of up to 50 microns attainable, and retails at a price small businesses will find more accessible. Previously, most smaller businesses using PEEK had to use 3D printing services, but now with PEEK 3D printers such as the Intamsys Funmat HT coming down to below $10,000, this may change.
As a result, the Funmat HT has seen extended use in the creation of parts for the aerospace, automotive, engineering, and medical sectors, as well as general part building for high-tech research and development. Overall, it makes PEEK 3D printing more accessible than ever before, and is one of the best PEEK 3D printers around for lower cost PEEK printing.
Applications of PEEK in 3D printing
PEEK in aerospace
PEEK is much lighter than metals for the same strength, in an industry where removing 45kg of weight on 500 planes can save $5 million annually on fuel costs. PEEK is heavily favored in aerospace as it can handle high temperatures, and is resistant to aerospace fluids and rain, meaning less downtime for repairs in an industry where this can cost $120,000 per day, according to Victrex.
PEEK in automotive, electricals and smartphones
PEEK sees use in car gears, valve cones, seals, guiding rings and bearings with longer lifespans, as well as to make quieter brake components. PEEK’s ability to handle high tensions also makes for a smoother driving experience. Its electrical insulation properties make it a great candidate for casings, connector pins, as well as in mobile devices to make smartphones lighter and thinner.
PEEK in the medical and dental sectors
PEEK is used in medical sector in dental instruments, endoscopes, orthopaedic tools, and lightweight prosthetics and implants. It is increasingly favored as an alternative for metal implants, which can cause issues. Custom PEEK implants are predicted to become a massive industry in the future, as PEEK’s properties are somewhat similar to bone, and can help in orthopaedic, facial, cranial and cardiac surgeries, such as in heart valve prostheses.
For spinal and skeletal use, PEEK is increasingly used to create spinal fusion devices and reinforcing rods. It doesn’t fully fuse with bone and is hydrophobic, and allows bone to grow effectively.
For PEEK in the dental sector, PEEK is considered to have great potential for tooth replacement, according to a recent study.
Tips for 3D printing PEEK
- Print very carefully: make sure you can maintain a consistent temperature, including across the extruder, heated bed and heated chamber, and remove any external factors. Consider printing slower to ensure consistency.
- Keep the nozzle clean: after every PEEK 3D print, make sure to fully clean your nozzle and prevent any material remaining and causing future problems.
- Store filament correctly: preferably in a completely sealed container (we recommend containers below) to preserve quality.
- Use high quality parts: industrial 3D printer parts are a necessity for PEEK 3D printing, including a premium nozzle and all-metal hot end to handle the strains of printing PEEK.
The Future of PEEK in 3D printing: Conclusion
PEEK is viewed as a material that will be increasingly used in the future. SmarTech Publishing predict it will become the most profitable 3D printing material of the next decade, highlighting its increased use, such as in SLS 3D printers as well as FDM (EOS now sell a PEEK SLS powder), with lower priced printers now able to print PEEK.
Intamsys is one of the 3D printer companies concentrating on these applications, creating printers that start at around $6,000 that can comfortably 3D print PEEK. This is a major shift away from $100K industrial 3D printers that were previously required.
Other forms of PEEK, such as PEI or ULTEM, are also predicted to grow. These are very similar materials and have much of the same applications, like in aeroplane parts.
Overall, we are likely to see far wider adoption of PEEK for custom, low-volume parts in the next few years. 3D printing is perfectly placed to create these intricate, custom parts, and is set to benefit from PEEK’s increasing popularity.