As 3D printing continues to evolve, standard printing material such as resin is starting to get some competition. One such material is Silicone. Here we have provided a basic overview of Silicone’s rise to fame as a printing material and what made it happen.
Le Nouveau Entrant
Silicone 3D printing is a relatively new player in the technology sector. This method took some time to develop because silicone is highly viscous, making it a tough task to use it in 3D printing and getting precise models. Also , it is worth noting that silicone is an elastomer, and unlike thermoplastics generally used in 3D printing it cannot revert back to it’s liquid state after being solidified. Silicone is basically synthetic rubber, so following are a few characteristics which contribute to its newfound popularity :
- It shows brilliant thermal stability,in temperatures as high as 200°C and as low as -80°C.
- Water and steam repellant
- UV resistant
- A great electrical insulator, even underwater!
- Can be moulded to be transparent, may be ideally used for optics
Wacker Chemie, one of the top chem giants,in 2016 made the first breakthrough in this technology and revealed the first silicone 3D printer. This development was especially welcome in the health and medical areas, where silicone finds great importance due to it being biocompatible and tear resistant.
This is how silicone joined the ranks of 3D printable materials such as thermoplastics, ceramics etc. This is a welcome addition considering how expensive silicone injection molding is, especially for customized parts.
ABC’s of its working
The major components of a silicone 3D printer include the printer base, the silicone extruder, the pump and the cartridges.It basically operates like an inkjet printer does.
All these components are tidily enclosed in a glass case. The nozzle rapidly extrudes tiny droplets of silicone successively onto the print bed, forming a fine boundary and layer. Coordinates to form the required shape are sent by a software. UV light is then directed onto the print area causing the silicone to vulcanize like any standard rubber. The process is further repeated until the desired object is fully formed.
As we mentioned earlier when silicone solidifies after being vulcanised, it can’t revert to its liquid state. This is important in making it heat resistant, just like any conventionally developed silicone parts.
Where is it used?
The various properties we discussed earlier play an important part in deciding where silicone finds its use
- Silicone being highly Biocompatible makes it a good option in medical fields, such as while designing customized implants. Other applications include such as respirators, hearing aids, nose supports for eyeglasses, earphones and headphones and various other items which remain in contact with the skin, as silicone doesn’t cause any skin irritation
- It’s thermostability makes silicone extremely viable for use in the automotive industry.
- Silicone is also highly elastic. So products where high flexibility and low compression is required such as the insoles of rubbing shoes, silicone is quite in demand.
- Silicone can be moulded to make transparent optical equipment..
- Due to its distinctive electrical conductive and insulative properties, silicone is an ideal material for sealing products in the automotive industry and securing fluids in hydraulic apparatus.
Some major Silicone 3D printing companies
The current top players in the silicone 3D printing industry, based on their technological competitiveness include:
- Wacker Chemie, the first developers of the first 3D printer for silicone products. Their registered trademark ACEO Imagine Series K liquid silicone 3D printer is equipped with a unique dispenser that can rapidly deposit and shape minuscule droplets of silicone into intricate patterns without even touching the object.
- Envisiontec is another company that provides professional grade 3D printing solutions. Their E-Silicone materials are extensively used for additive manufacturing. They’ve also released an open-source DLP 3D printer and a range of resin materials. This indicates that their silicone and other materials can be used on ‘any’ resin-based 3D printer. That is absolutely brilliant.
- Other commercial stalwarts include Carbon 3D, who offer silicone urethane, a resin-based material solution and Fripp Design, they run a silicone 3D printing service by the name Picsima.
Though silicone 3D printing is still taking it’s baby steps in this gargantuan world of 3D printing, don’t be surprised to see a meteoric rise in the use of this material. This technique has already made huge strides, because of its immense properties and multiple applications already exist. The material offers great creative opportunities for engineers, designers, or hobbyists alike.