Oct 11, 2016 | By Alec

Week after week, the options for 3D printing materials continue to increase, and the continually growing market introduces new applications and manufacturing uses for 3D printing technologies. Recently, German industrial 3D printer manufacturer Keyence announced its latest material development, and it is surely one for the books as the company has developed a new 3D printing material based on actual silicone.

Keyence, the company responsible for the AGILISTA industrial 3D printer series, was inspired to create the silicone 3D printing material after receiving feedback from its clients and seeing the vast potential for the very durable but still rubbery material within the 3D printing industry. The new material, which marks a milestone for the company, can be used with inkjet 3D printing systems as the company developed a method for layering silicone in fine droplets and subsequently curing them with UV light. The process produces very high resolution results and optimal strength levels in all dimensions. 3D printed silicone objects should thus be almost indistinguishable from the conventional thing, except in how easy it is to manufacture.

Of course, very flexible silicone-like materials have been adapted for 3D printing before, but actual silicone has been generally difficult to 3D print with due to its very soft, rubber-like qualities. As the German engineers explained, they have tried their best to maintain silicones known properties as much as possible with their 3D printable material. Unlike other supposedly 3D printable silicone materials, which they call ‘rubbery elastomers’, they have been able to achieve environmental resistance and shape retention properties that are very comparable to conventional silicone. Ultimately, having a 3D printable silicone material could eliminate the need for the molding process that is typically required for the flexible material.

At the same time, this silicone material can now also benefit from 3D printing opportunities that were hitherto off-limits. Despite the material’s flexible properties, the 3D printable silicone can also still rely on water-soluble supports to create cavities and overhangs – just like you would use with other 3D printing materials. As these supports are removed with nothing other than tap water (of any temperature), even very thin walls are possible without diminishing printing quality. “The excellent tolerability of printing materials also ensures a high edge sharpness, as well as a high degree of detail,” the German experts add.

So what could the silicone 3D printing material be used for? Well, the list of applications is virtually limitless, though Keyence specifically refers to very practical tools such as seal rings, O-rings and even soft jigs you’d use for protecting sensitive electronics. And of course, all of these are produced at greater speeds than through conventional molding. If you’d like to see the material in action, check out Keyence at EUROMOLD in Munich in October, or at FORM NEXT in Frankfurt in November.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Materials

 

 

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