Jan 7, 2016 | By Alec

If you’ve been around the 3D printing block a few times, you’ll have doubtlessly noticed that the materials you choose have a tremendous impact on the final quality and functional of the print. Harder is not always better; in fact the opposite is often true. In that mindset, 3D printing service provider Sculpteo has just added a brand new material to their range of SLS 3D printing services: the very flexible plastic TPU, which they say is perfect for several top of the line sectors relying on 3D printing technology, such as the medical world and even the fashion industry, as it’s an excellent option for 3D printed wearables.

Sculpteo, of course, is a well-known 3D printing service provider based in Paris who offer high quality services to 3D designers and other professional users. SLS 3D printing is their technology of choice, and regularly work in nylon. However, by adding this exclusive TPU powder to their range they are suddenly capable of a lot more. As they explain on their website, this powder has been especially engineered for use in SLS 3D printing and has a hardness level of 65A (on the Shore Hardness scale), making it very flexible and even capable of producing complex mechanical properties.

It’s also fairly easy in use, and 3D printed in a similar fashion to other SLS-ready plastics. “As it’s a powder based processed, TPU 3D printing doesn’t require support structure during the building process. The powder itself works as a support. That gives mechanical engineers and designers a lot of freedom in their creation and the ability to create interlocking and moving parts,” the French experts proudly say. Though not very useful for large flat surfaces, it can be used for a wide range of complex geometries as its very thin sections (minimum thinkness being 1.2 mm) are very flexible, while thick sections are quite hard.

The French specialists are very pleased with the results already. “This new type of material puts 3D printing at the same level as traditional production methods by – finally – making it possible to create soft, flexible objects that are truly functional rather than simply prototypes,” says CEO Clément Moreau. “We are enthusiastic about the first applications conceived by our clients using this completely new material. From medical applications to the world of textiles, we are committed to working alongside the industry leaders of today and tomorrow.”

What’s more, it has already been very successfully taken into operation, with several results already being showcased at CES in Las Vegas. Among them are several high quality surgical models, such as the heart visible above – developed in collaboration with Doctor Jean-François Paul from the Institut Montsouris Paris, to ensure it mimics all the properties of an actual heart. These projects, they say, prove that 3D printed TPU is perfect for making exact surgical replicas that can be used to prep for complex operations. “The flexibility and strength of TPU make it possible to recreate human organs to provide surgeons with a realistic teaching material on which to train before carrying out surgical procedures,” the French experts say.

But perhaps even more impressive is their work with upcoming fashion designer and ESMOD graduate Anastasia Ruiz, who extensively used TPU plastic material to develop her ‘Virus’ collection – featuring a gorgeous dress covered in patterns inspired by virus cells seen through a microscope. As she explains, she is very fascinated by state of the art technologies, and found a perfect material in TPU due to its lightweight, flexible nature and the ability to 3D print very complex shapes with it – which you would need when recreating virus cells in 3D.

While we’ve seen 3D printed fashion pieces before, including dresses, that often means letting go of all traditional materials and manufacturing processes. Ruiz, however, saw much more added value in using 3D printing as an additional manufacturing option, alongside traditional fabrics and assembly processes – something that makes her dresses far more wearable and comfortable than others we’ve seen. In fact, the Virus collection contains 3D printed polyamide parts too. “The specific mechanical properties of these two different materials require that we create the mesh in two very different and unique ways. For the mesh 3D printed in Polyamide our attention was mainly on the joints, we focused on this section using that material for the purpose of creating articulated mesh. Whereas the mesh 3D printed in TPU needed to provide structure which enhances the flexibility of the material,” the French 3D printing experts explain.

The skirt from this collection, meanwhile, was largely made in TPU – in part to showcase just how flexible the material is. “To make the most of this flexible 3D printing material Anastasia decided to design a bubble skirt. Anastasia’s pattern allowed us to 3D model the cells on two levels to create a visual effect,” they add. Not only is it very beautiful, it’s also good to see 3D printed fashion that actually looks wearable. If you’d like to see these gorgeous outfits in real life, be sure to check out the Sculpteo stand at CES in Las Vegas.



Posted in 3D Printing Service



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