Aug 11, 2015 | By Simon

With over 3,000 silicone products alone , Germany’s Wacker Chemie is certainly among one of the world’s largest manufacturers and suppliers of silicone for a wide variety of applications.  But as additive manufacturing continues to rise in popularity among multiple industries - including both the technologies and the materials themselves - perhaps it comes with little surprise that the company has been turning a considerable amount of their attention towards 3D printing with silicone.   

In a recently published Q2 report from the global chemical company, the company has revealed that the silicone branch of the company has developed a groundbreaking new process for 3D printing with silicone.  

Due to the soft rubber-like qualities of the material, it has previously been difficult to use the material in additive manufacturing processes without the ability to use melting or layering.  Instead, many users created a molds using PLA or ABS filaments and then poured silicone into the molds to create custom silicone products.  Now, it appears that they may not need the molds after all.   

The company’s goal with the new technology is to create a system that will provide a sustainable machine and software combination which will offer customers solutions for manufacturing with their silicone.  

In order to make the technology feasible for manufacturing applications, the developers have been actively developing a solution for machines to process at least 100 grams of silicone per hour.  

“Injection moulding is the established process for series production, and will remain so,” explains Dr. Bernd Pachaly, who led the research for the project.  

“But people who design prototypes or only want to make a few copies of a part can now very rapidly and flexibly modify such small series to meet changing demands. That is the unique advantage of the process.”

To create an object, the engineers at Wacker developed a new additive manufacturing process where tiny droplets from a nozzle are placed by an automated robot arm side-by-side to build up a silicone object layer-by-layer. To solidify each layer, a UV light is flashed to crosslink the printed molecules into an elastomeric material.  The resulting objects produced using this method feature a significantly smoother surface than other 3D printed thermoplastics and the quality is more in-line with objects that have been professionally injection molded.  

“We have a lot of ideas, and we want to provide our customers with much more than just silicone for additive manufacturing,” added Pachaly.

“It will no longer be enough to drop off drums of chemicals in front of the factory hall.”

Although the technology is still young and is likely a ways off from trickling down to the consumer market, it has a large potential to be used across multiple industries that utilize silicone materials into their existing products including optical applications, orthopaedic supports, lightweight construction and households goods. The technology also offers many possibilities in medical sector for creating biocompatible, patient-specific implants even during surgery.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Technology

 

 

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Dr Unver, University of Huddersfield wrote at 9/20/2016 2:05:03 PM:

Can we see some more details of the 3D printer. We need to make a helmet from silicone is there a size restriction

Gladwin Das wrote at 3/2/2016 4:59:11 AM:

Hi : We would like some parts made from medical grade silicone. We are a US based company. Can you provide contact information of any company in Europe or perhaps the US ? Gladwin Das CEO HFT Inc 1471 Lametti Lane Arden Hills, MN 55112. USA gdd1062@gmail.com

wackyman223 wrote at 9/14/2015 3:51:23 PM:

Awesome!!

Tomek wrote at 8/17/2015 5:47:23 PM:

That silicone brush is unfortunately probably an example that could not be made with this similar-but-different-to-FDM type extrusion process. The long strands would not be easy to make layer by layer. :)



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