As the choices for 3D printing materials widen, new applications and manufacturing uses for 3D printing technologies are also being explored continuously by the market. German industrial 3D printer manufacturer Keyence announced a new material development with its new 3D printing material based on actual silicone.
After seeing the vast potential for a very durable but still rubbery material within the 3D printing industry and receiving feedback from its clients, Keyence, the company responsible for the Agilista industrial 3D printer series, was inspired to create the silicone 3D printing.
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.
Very flexible silicone-like materials have been adapted for 3D printing before, but actual silicone has been generally difficult to 3D print with because of its very soft, rubber-like qualities. As the German engineers explained, they have tried their best to maintain the known properties of silicone 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.
The silicone material can also benefit from 3D printing opportunities that were previously 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 added.
Although the list of applications for the silicone 3D printing material seems to be virtually limitless, Keyence specifically refers to very practical applications such as seal rings, O-rings and even soft jigs used for protecting sensitive electronics.