Apr 28, 2016 | By Andre

Generally speaking, when people talk about the benefits of 3D printing there is chatter about the pros of customization and the ability for small-time manufacturing. From there, it's not uncommon for people to move on to the grandiose and the potential for distributed manufacturing or the next industrial revolution.

Unfortunately, reality often sets in and the results can be less than flattering. So while examples of clumsily 3D printed trinkets formed on primitive looking plastic sputtering machines still captivate the general public, it’s the cheap and mass-produced dollar store variety item that often wins both on economy and quality.

So when I started reading about how advancements in the production of foam using 3D printing was producing superior results - both in thermal insulation and shock-absorption - over standard cellular materials, I was geeked out with excitement.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory material scientists have recently published a piece in the April 27 edition of Scientific Reports that demonstrate the feasibility of 3D printing uniform foam structures through a process called direct-ink-write.

This process uses the controlled placement of a face-centred tetragonal lattice structure (as pictured below on the right) vs. the traditional open-cell stochastic foam structure on the left. While both produce similar material properties in feel, weight, floatation and shock absorption, durability tests produced by the laboratory are showing that the 3D printed examples are proving stronger, age more slowly and retain their structural composition longer in a wide range of conditions.

Lead author on the study Amitesh Maiti mentions, “now that our work strongly indicates superior long-term stability and performance of the printed material, there is no reason not to consider replacing traditional foam with appropriately designed 3D-printed foam in specific future applications.”

As an advocate for the potential of 3D printing technology, those words are music to my ears. If proven to be true in the long term (the study tests went over a year in some cases), why wouldn’t a material important to industries like automotive, aerospace, electronic, packaging and more invest in the technology as a superior and controlled alternative?

So why is this 3D printed foam better than what’s already out there today? It seems to be about the ability to create uniformity in structure. And while the study primarily involved woodpile structures (a sort of piling together of lateral elements), more traditional 3D printing structures could be produced using support material that can be removed once the 3D print process completes.

Of course, while the potential of 3D printed foam as a superior product over the traditional has been demonstrated in the study, the paper is ultimately the first study of its kind. And even the authors admit that “there may be better performing AM designs, including other optimal 3D designs that [they] are yet to explore.”

But at the end of the day, this is another example that begins to prove that foam can be improved using 3D printing technologies. It’s not just a case of “hey, that looks a bit like foam” but instead, “eureka! I think we’re on to something here.”



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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Leonardo Lopes wrote at 3/2/2018 12:52:48 PM:

Hullo, do you think it would be possible to convert plastic bags into foam used for thermal isolation?

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