What are the newest advancements in rapid prototyping materials? What are your expectations for future materials?
Hi-Tech Outsourcing Services
The 3D printing industry has seen remarkable growth in the last decade, opening opportunities across diverse manufacturing dimensions. The idea of printing a 3D object is no longer a question of interest: the focus today, is on identification of new advanced materials to extend the reach of 3D printing across diverse domains. The immense contribution from researchers studying the feasibility of different materials has made it possible to predict a bright future for additive manufacturing technology.
A breakthrough example is the use of human cells as a 3D printing material to develop tissues for testing during drug development. The bioink uses tens of thousands of cells printed over hydrogels, such as collagen or gelatin, which gets dissolved once the tissue is printed. Organova, a bioprinting pioneer, printed the first blood vessels using cells cultured from a single person, and is expecting to leverage the technology further to develop on-demand organs during surgical procedures. Additionally, an entire range of biocompatible materials, such as thermoplastics, photopolymers, and metals, are expected to be increasingly adopted to test 3D printing compatibility.
Food ingredients can also be a good material for 3D printing food items. While this may sound a bit impractical on earth, printing food for long duration space missions can provide required food quality and nutrient stability, rather than today's ready-to-eat pouches that are tasteless and lose nutrient stability over time. As a matter of fact. NASA is already funding a project which is expected to bring a breakthrough in food technology.
From the manufacturing perspective, the pursuit to identify advanced materials for 3D printing applications is at its peak. More recent advancements, include the use of composite materials, such as carbon fiber, Kevlar, fiberglass, and nylon to print mechanical parts that require higher strength without adding weight. MARKFORG3D has demonstrated the use of these materials effectively by developing the world's first carbon fiber 3D printer.
The future of 3D printing materials is also greatly dependent on printing technologies. Two matured 3D printing techniques exist today: one focusing on details and surface finish, and the other focusing on structural strength, each having its own disadvantage. As such, future technologies of 3D printing will be more focused on fulfilling strength and surface finish. HP's Multi Jet Fusion technology is one initiative that will help fill the gap in present additive manufacturing technology.
Additionally, existing printing capabilities are restricted to only printing single materials. In order to develop more useful products, 3D printers will need to process multiple materials in a single build cycle. Although recent advances have made the use of multiple materials from a single family of materials possible, future efforts are still required to combine different families of materials, such as plastics and metals to build more innovative products.
Project Engineering Manager
Just this year, components made with FST-rated, fused deposition modeling (FDM) ULTEM 9085 were tested and verified for outer space at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to function on the exterior of a satellite to be launched in 2016. Engineering-grade thermoplastics traditionally used in injection molding, such as UV-stable ASA for the FDM process, have recently hit the market for extended outdoor use. Moreover, flame retardant PEEK, an SLS material, is also used for end-use aerospace applications. Such advancements are a sign of the rising demand for more rugged, production-grade 3D printed products.
The additive manufacturing industry has grown significantly and quickly in the last decade. When I initially started in this field, rapid prototyping with additive manufacturing was a crude process. The materials and technology weren't as robust, and 3D printed parts were primarily used for visual verification and application uses were limited. Today, machines have become more reliable, repeatable and accurate: combined with evolving materials, we continue to move away from the prototyping stage of product development and into production. 3D printing is claiming its place as a manufacturing tool --for vacuum forming, paper pulp tooling, jigs and fixtures, and end-use parts--and that is where the industry will grow.
What we're seeing now is a demand for materials to encompass more properties in a single 3D print. We have materials that print in multiple colors, durometers, and with a certain degree of diversity, but the next opportunity for growth lies in furthering the capability for completely consolidated manufacturing.
I expect the next material development phase will be in assembled 3D prints, with both metals and plastics printed simultaneously. I see a trend expanding into assembled, functional, and involved units with multiple application uses built into a single print, this will transform production lines. Materials developed in the future will focus more on viable, long-term functions as a final product. New materials will take 3D printing further into true manufacturing.
Vice President of Product & Channel Management
Advances in rapid prototyping materials include improvements in tear and thermal resistance, shape memory, stiffness, and photorealistic color.
In terms of composite printing, 3D Systems has announced a new elastomer material, with up to 700% elongation, low Shore A value of 30, enhanced tear resistance, and excellent shape memory. This material can run in tandem with ABS-like or Polycarbonate-like rigid materials to produce 14 functional material composites with unique and specific physical properties. This material features exceptional toughness in single print jobs or as individual features on a single part.
To suit the toughest, most demanding end use and functional prototyping applications, a new selective laser sintering (SLS) composite material uses both glass and aluminum. The glass filled nylon print material offers maximum stiffness and elevated thermal resistance for applications that require the minimum material flexibility and higher temperature environments or exposures. The aluminum nylon print material has a high strength-to-weight ratio and enhanced thermal resistance for demanding applications where rigid articles are required, but weight reduction is desired, such as automotive and aircraft parts.
3D Systems has also developed a wax resin hybrid casting material to be used on the Projet 1200 micro-SLA printer. This material enables non-technical direct investment casting using the same investment materials as common lost-wax casting, for parts such as jewelry and small medical devices. Also, new materials are printing jewelry mock-ups or counter-top samples without the expense of precious metals and casting, and a new clear material ideal for samples and prototyping.
Additionally, new plastic-based powder and color binders for the Projet 4500 and Colorjet Printers provide vivid, photorealistic color in a light-weight and durable plastic. This allows for the full color printing of parts with delicate features.
Expectations for future materials include: faster imaging materials, closing the gap between conventional injection molding processes, improved mechanical properties and surface finishes, and long term stability. Additionally, it would be great to see expanded properties to enable new applications.