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Posted on October 12, 2022

What Is PEI 3D Printing: Essentials You Need To Know

In most cases, makers' relationship with 3D printers is an ever-evolving one, allowing them to gain a better understanding of the machine with time.

Formerly known as rapid prototyping, 3D printing was developed in the 1980s. As a result, companies were able to develop prototypes more efficiently and accurately than ever before. In the 30 years since it was invented, its uses have become progressively broader.

This is mostly because it has become increasingly important to use high-performance thermoplastics in 3D printing over the last few years. As rapid prototyping technology makes its way into the manufacturing process, this need becomes even more apparent.

Now is the time for makers to switch to better alternatives, such as PEI sheets. The amorphous polyetherimide (PEI), also called ULTEM, can withstand high temperatures and is cheaper than PEEK and PEK.

In this article, we’ll explain what a PEI sheet is and how makers can use it to improve the 3D printing process. But first, let's talk about some basics.

Photo by Xiaole Tao on Unsplash

What Is 3D Printing?

The process of 3D printing or additive manufacturing involves making three-dimensional solid models from digital files.

Objects made with 3D printing are created using a process known as additive manufacturing. In an additive process, successive layers of raw materials are laid down until the desired object is formed. It is possible to see each of these layers as thin slices through the object.

Technology-wise, 3D printing is an evolution of conventional printing, which involves layering materials (usually ink). 

3D printing is usually fast, costs little in setup fees, and produces more complex shapes than ‘traditional’ techniques, allowing a wider range of materials to be used. In the 21st century, 3D printing can unlock a wide range of production applications, bringing significant benefits to the supply chain. 

Examples of 3D printing in real life include:

  • A variety of consumer goods (fashion, furniture, footwear, and eyewear)
  • Industrial supplies (machine tools, models, functional components)
  • Product lines related to dentistry
  • The prosthetics industry
  • Architectural scale models and mockups
  • Creating fossil reconstructions
  • Making replicas of ancient artifacts.

As the founder of 3D Systems, Hull sold 3D printers using a variety of technologies starting in 1986. Now, a variety of kits are available, ranging from entry-level products to high-end commercial equipment, in addition to on-demand parts services for businesses.

How Does 3D Printing Work?

3D models are the starting point for everything. A 3D model can either be created from scratch or downloaded from a library. Essentially, 3D printing is the process of laying down layers of material to form a three-dimensional object.

There are several types of 3D printing, which include:

  • Stereolithography (SLA)
  • Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
  • Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)
  • Digital Light Process (DLP)
  • Multi Jet Fusion (MJF)
  • PolyJet
  • Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)
  • Electron Beam Melting (EBM)

It is necessary to have a file telling the 3D printer the location of the printed materials for a 3D model. G-code files are the most common file type for this. There are essential 'coordinates' in this file that determine how the printer moves horizontally and vertically – which are also called axis coordinates (X, Y, Z).

It is possible to use a variety of materials in additive manufacturing: polymers, alloys, cement, ceramic, cardboard, and even food products (like chocolate). Often, materials are fabricated in wire feedstock, such as filament, fine powder, or resin solutions.

Three-Dimensional Printing: Values & Uses

Design concepts can be transformed into 3D models or prototypes using 3D printing efficiently, allowing swift design changes to be implemented. Due to the layer-by-layer nature of 3D printing, materials are mainly used where necessary. Consequently, compared to subtractive methods, it generates less waste.

Recent trends in 3D printing usage are partly due to the fact that it is a simple technology that can be applied to a wide variety of applications. Here are some of the top applications of 3D printing technologies.

Medicine: 3D printing has played an increasingly important role in medical research over the last few years. Physicians and medical professionals utilize 3D printing to produce prosthetics, assistive devices, dentures, and transplant grafts. 3D printing can even be used in forensics, for example, to recreate bullets found in victims.

Food Industry: Another application of 3D printers is food preparation. The use of 3D printers for food has become commercially feasible in a few cases. The majority of them focus on specific food items, such as chocolate, waffles, or biscuits.

Construction: 3D printing in construction allows for the fabrication of components or buildings using various technologies. A number of advantages can be derived from these technologies, including greater precision and fidelity, increased efficiency, reduced labor costs, improved functionality, and less waste. The Russian startup Apis Cor, for instance, 3D printed a modest house in just 24 hours and saved up to 40% on the cost of building.

Education: 3D printing connects ideas with images in the digital world, enabling them to be created in the real, 3D environment. It is common to find 3D printers in classrooms and public libraries today. Students can also use 3D printers in classes and on projects at universities.

What Is PEI 3D Printing?

High-performance thermoplastics have become more prevalent in 3D printing over the last few years. This is especially noticeable as technology moves from rapid prototyping to manufacturing finished products.

Polyetherimide, better known as PEI, is a “comparatively maintenance-free” print surface suitable for all filaments, whether heated or unheated. It is not uncommon for PEI sheets to be sold under brand names such as Ultem in the industry of 3D printing.

Polyether Imide (PEI) Ultem is an inhomogeneous, yellow-to-orange plastic that has a glass transition temperature (Tg) of 217 °C with continuous operating temperatures up to 170 °C. There is a UL94 VO and 5VA rating for this inherently fire-resistant plastic.

PEI sheets are usually metallic sheets that are magnetically attached to your heatbed via a flexible metallic sheet. As a result, you can remove the sheet after printing has finished, then simply take off the model by flexing the print surface.

It is necessary to heat the extruder to 350°C in order to melt thermoplastic. So, even though ULTEM gained widespread acceptance for its mechanical qualities, mass production was only possible with the development of FDM/FFF printers. 

PEI Models & Characteristics (What Makes Them Unique?)

As an intrinsic flame retardant, PEI performs very well in FST (Flame, Smoke, Toxicity) evaluations. In fact, certain metals can even be replaced by them because of their mechanical characteristics. Among its many qualities are: 

  • A high flame resistance
  • Low smoke emission 
  • Good resistance to automotive fluids
  • Low smoke emission 
  • Exceptional electrical attributes
  • Stability under hydrolysis
  • Weather-resistant and UV-resistant
  • Hydrocarbons resistance
  • Alcohol resistance
  • Low toxicity 
  • A high strength-to-weight ratio.

As you can see, PEI sheets have an excellent combination of physical characteristics, which are retained at high temperatures. There are three main types of sheets, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. In the first release, each side of the sheet featured Smooth PEI stickers. 

The second was a powder-coated textured sheet, which was solved after being used for several years, designed for PETG and other high-adhesion filament production environments. 

A new addition is the Satin sheet, which sits between smooth and textured sheets in both appearance and properties. 

It is probably the powder-coated surface that makes PEI magnetic flex plates so popular. There is, however, more than one version available.

For example, PEI sheets can be powder-coated on both sides, or if you prefer more versatility, choose a smooth PEI sheet for one of the printing surfaces. Using that method, you can control how the 3D model looks.

It is necessary to use an extruder capable of reaching temperatures between 345 and 400°C to process PEI. As we mentioned before, FDM and FFF printers are two devices that are capable of doing this.

Photo by Kadir Celep on Unsplash

PEI Essentials You Should Know

Print bed adhesion is one of the most recurring problems faced by 3D printing enthusiasts. Securing a print from beginning to end is essential for a successful outcome.

Print beds can be treated with various materials to increase adhesion; stick glue and painter's tape are two popular options. Sadly, these are always temporary solutions that can only be used once. After they've been used, they must be removed from the print bed. 

Ensure that your print bed is properly cleaned; otherwise, they can leave behind a film that will cause an unsmooth surface and interfere with future prints. A PEI sheet might be your best shot if you want to keep this from happening on a regular basis.

There is no surface preparation required prior to PEI use, making it a very practical product. According to the product instructions, using PEI sheets on your print bed will also eliminate the need for a support structure since parts should just stick to it.

You can easily cut PEI to size using a craft knife. There are many ways to apply PEI, but two are generally the easiest. One easy way to do this is to place your PEI sheet over your existing bed frame securely using binder clips (also called gator clips) or something of the same nature. 

As a second method, you can apply 3M 468MP adhesive and PEI sheets together.

At Buildtak, we have decided to do away with the erratic, temporary fix that lasts only for a couple of prints. We provide high-quality 3D print surfaces that are heat-resistant to ensure consistency across a wide range of filaments, no matter how many prints you do!

How to Use PEI Sheets

There is often an adhesive backing on PEI sheets for adhering to the aluminum base plate. Additionally, you might be able to get your hands on clip-on versions. If the PEI sheet has been previously covered, remove it before applying a new one.

For the sheet to lay flat, you must also clean the aluminum build plate. When applying the sheet, the bubbles should be pushed out, just as if you were applying a screen protector to your smartphone. 

Upon applying the PEI sheet, you will need to level the print bed since it will affect the height of the print. Despite the fact that they're generally only 1mm thick, the nozzle of your printer will scrape over them.

Once your PEI sheet has been glued onto your substrate, adjust your print surface and set the temperature to 85 C for ABS, and start printing. There should be no issue at all releasing the parts from the surface. It is not necessary to heat the heated bed when printing PLA, but turning it to 45°C can help.

Cleaning PEI Sheets

The print bed is usually made of steel or glass and is a flat, solid surface on which the printed part is placed.

The print bed is sometimes called a build plate, and it can either be heated or unheated. A heated bed improves adhesion between the first and second layers, improving print removal, as explained above. However, not all FDM builders use their integrated print bed for building.

In order to ensure successful printing, the build surface must be cleaned to remove filament buildup that can reduce adhesion.

Cleaning your build surface is key to getting good prints, regardless of whether you're using glass or PEI. For a perfectly flat surface, you need to clean the aluminum build plate as well. That’s the only way you can be sure that the surface will be flat.

The build platform can actually be ruined if you allow 3D prints to adhere too tightly or if you don’t remove the print on time. Here are a few methods you can use to remove finished 3D prints from the bed.

Removing Stuck Print from Bed: Solutions

Stuck print on the print bed? Freeze it together with the print. If you blow compressed air over stubborn prints, they can come off with ease as a result of temperature changes.

Stuck prints can also be removed using isopropyl alcohol, which dissolves adhesive. You should put the solution near the print's bottom and leave it for 15 minutes. And done.

Detachment of the support structure is another way to remove your print. Due to their low density, it may be possible to break them off your 3D print in some cases. Although, there is a risk of your 3D printed part breaking or deteriorating if you use this technique. 

You can also buy convenient pre-made removal solutions from credible websites like Buildtalk. But, there’s an easier way to safely remove your print without any of the fuss mentioned above.

You should not have to worry about a print clinging too hard to your print bed. We recommend taking preventative measures to resolve this issue instead.

A good build platform is one of the essential items you can use to simplify the process of removing 3D prints. Build plates that are flexible and magnetized are easy to remove from a 3D printer, and 3D prints can be taken out with a slight bend.

Photo by Opt Lasers on Unsplash

What Is PEI 3D Printing - Conclusion

In the last few decades, 3D printers have transformed the way we do things in our daily lives. A single machine can produce different types of things in different materials, all at the same time.

Additive manufacturing is becoming more practical and cost-effective, allowing companies to integrate additive manufacturing into factory operations.

PrimaCreator's Polyetherimide Ultem (Polyetherimide) is a durable, nearly maintenance-free surface for better adhesion stability. No additional adhesives such as glue or tape are required. Because PEI does not require surface preparation, it is easy to handle.

Printing in 3D is easy with our solutions! Featuring ultra-thin, highly durable, flexible surfaces created with bubble-free technology combined with heat-resistant materials, we provide maximum performance and convenience. Check Buildtalk's high-quality surfaces and removal solutions for convenient prints. 

Installation is quick and easy thanks to the variety of sizes available. Are you having trouble removing a plate? Nothing to worry about! No residue is left behind when our surfaces are removed one piece at a time.

We hope we could answer your “What Is PEI 3D Printing?” question with this blog post. Please contact us if you have any questions about our services or products.