Mar 16, 2016 | By Kira

Sheffield and London-based Fripp Design and Research has been granted a UK patent for its novel method of 3D printing silicone. Unlike other silicon 3D printing processes which rely on creating and approving new materials for use, Fripp Design’s Picsima method works with affordable, FDA-approved silicones that are already on the market, reducing the costs and expanding the possibilities in soft and flexible 3D printed prosthetics, medical devices, consumer electronics and industrial prototypes.

We first wrote about Fripp Design and Research back in 2013. At that time, the company was working alongside the University of Sheffield to develop full-color soft tissue 3D printed prosthetics, including noses, ears, and eyes. From that research project, Fripp Design was motivated to further optimize full-color silicone 3D printing for the medical, consumer, and industrial markets.

This led to the development of, and patent application for, the Picsima 3D printer, a unique additive manufacturing machine that, unlike existing FDM 3D printers, precisely controls the polymerization and extrusion of silicone directly from .STL CAD files. Using the Picsima 3D printing method, Fripp Design engineers have achieved very soft 3D printed parts that score from 20 OO to 40 A on the Shore Hardness scale (for perspective, chewing gum sits at around 20 OO, a rubber band at 25 A, and solid truck tires are way up at 50 D.)

As mentioned above, what makes Picsima unique in the silicone 3D printing market is that it refers to a specific method rather than specific material. In this “addition curing method of vulcanisation” method, there are three active components: a base oil, a cross linker, and a catalyst. The cross linker determines the softness of the rubber, and the catalyst accelerates curing time. Whereas in traditional silicone manufacturing, the three components would be mixed together and set in a mold, Fripp Design’s innovation is to use the catalyst to create 3D geometries not with a mold, but with additive manufacturing technology.

“Tom Fripp and the team were playing around with platinum curing silicone in the office when they all had what I describe as the ‘light bulb moment’” said Steve Roberts, director and co-owner of the company. “We realized that we could extrude the catalyst into a bath of silicone oil and catalyst to create 3 dimensional geometry.” “This is significant because we are not creating materials that would need to be tested and approved for use,” he continued. “If the material is approved for use in molds, then the material is approved as a material for 3D printing as well.”

The finished 3D printed silicone parts are built, cured, and processed in under an hour, and are strong enough to be vigorously treated, stretched, and re-used. The silicone can also be pigmented for full-color 3D prints. According to Fripp Design and Research, it is the world’s first method for 3D printing off-the-shelf 2 part RTV silicone without the need for supports, specialist tools, or any post-processing.

Applications for full-color 3D printed silicone parts include custom-made soft-tissue 3D printed prosthetics and medical devices, consumer electronic parts or accessories such as custom-molded earphones, or functional prototypes across various manufacturing industries.

Initially, Fripp Design and Research secured funding from Innovate UK and Horizon 2020, which allowed them to build a test rig and demonstrate the feasibility of 3D printing soft rubber parts. The company currently offers silicone 3D printing services, however they are seeking additional investment to continue developing the Picsima 3D printer and eventually bring it to market.

With the UK patent granted, the company will also be setting its sights on the Europe, North America, and China, which it sees as “the three key markets” for its portfolio of IP in Picsima. Fripp Design and Research is also developing methods for 3D printing multiple softness levels into a single silicone part (the current patent, however, is only for producing single-softness 3D printed silicone parts).

“[The UK patent] is a significant step forward for the company and its shareholders” said Roberts. “It finally recognizes the inventiveness of the method we have discovered which, on the face of it, would appear to be obvious yet nobody else had thought of it before us.”

“It was the combination of 11 years product design experience, being consumers of 3D Printing and learning the chemistry of addition curing silicone that gave us the knowledge and expertise to figure out the IP,” he continued. “Many industry experts have seen the system and have complimented the team on the simplicity of our discovery. We now have to turn that simplicity into a commercial 3D Print offer under our Picsima brand.”



Posted in 3D Printer Company



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Tom Fripp wrote at 3/30/2016 4:06:17 PM:

@guest How is it a hollow patent and why is it abusing the legal system? It's not like patent infringement is an illegal act, it's up to the patent holder to prove infringement, not the state. Patents are designed to incentivise people to innovate by providing state "backed" protection through open and fromal publication. Patents are also very expensive and time consuming so a small company (this one is 5 people so not much more than just a single inventor/maker) has to really commit and take a commercial risk in publishing. Would you invest time, effort and skill without giving yourself the best chances of a return?! I doubt it! Maybe you should read into the facts about a process and a team that moves the industry on and does something innovative before you judge the results of 3 years of work in a single short sighted and ill informed sentence. @Henry Theoretically, yes the system can use epoxy too. It has been trialed with this material but without greater knowledge in epoxies or access to suitable supplies the focus remains on Silicone.

guest wrote at 3/17/2016 1:12:51 PM:

Another hollow patent so another company can abuse the legal system for profit.

Henry cassn wrote at 3/16/2016 5:10:22 PM:

Raises the interesting question as to whether one could do this trick with two component epoxy

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