Canadian developer of soft materials for additive manufacturing, Structur3d, has unveiled a new desktop manufacturing platform to accelerate the research, prototyping, and production of rubber parts through a combination of 3D printing and injection molding.
The Inj3ctor platform seeks to overcome current challenges preventing 3D printed rubber parts from meeting manufacturing standards, through bringing 3D printing and desktop injection techniques together with factory-grade materials.
“As a team of scientists and chemical engineers, we took a materials approach to 3D printing technology and expanded the printers’ material capabilities beyond standard plastics,” said Charles Mire, CEO and co-founder of Structur3d. “Our Inj3ctor platform spotlights our shift to industrial manufacturing markets and demonstrates how additive manufacturing can lead the way toward the factory of the future.
“The technology opens the door for product developers and manufacturers to accelerate research and prototyping while reducing risk in supply chain procurement and manufacturing.”
3D printing rubber-like materials
While rubber-like materials, also known as elastomers, are desired both for their flexibility and strength, fragility often limits their use in functional parts. At present, elastomers are primarily used as resins within 3D printing applications, and several new rubber-like materials have been recently developed.
In June, U.S. 3D printer OEM 3D Systems launched its Figure 4 RUBBER-65A BLK elastomer which displayed high elongation at break for flexibility and durability, making it well-suited to uses in air and dust gaskets and seals for electronics. Meanwhile, Fillamentum Industrial has introduced a selection of materials including a flexible Flexfill TPE elastomer resin, suitable for packaging, prototyping, medical products, and elastomeric components such as gaskets and sealings.
Elsewhere, Texas-based 3D printing resin specialist Adaptive3D partnered with Dutch nutrition and materials multinational, DSM, to commercialize a resin-based soft rubber-like material, to be sold under the name Soft ToughRubber. Adaptive3D previously introduced its Damping ToughRubber material, which the company considered to be the “world’s highest strain photopolymer.”
More recently, researchers from Virginia Tech University (VTU’s) Macromolecules Innovation Institute (MII) and Michelin North America created a novel 3D printed latex rubber material with potential applications in areas such as soft robotics, medical devices, and shock absorbers. Meanwhile, Californian rapid prototyping service provider, GoProto launched a new 3D printing service called 3DElastroPrint, which specializes in producing “rubber-like” parts based on a flexible, lightweight Thermoplastic Polyamide (TPA) produced by Evonik and optimized for HP’s Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) systems.
The Inj3ctor platform
Combining the principles of 3D printing and desktop injection molding, Structur3d is expanding its material capabilities to produce new products with factory-grade rubber materials, like silicones and polyurethanes through its Inj3ctor platform.
The Inj3ctor platform uses 3D printed molds to inject 2-component (2K) flexible materials into customizable shapes. Product developers can design detailed molds using CAD software and then 3D print them using standard, durable, or dissolvable plastic via an Ultimaker S5 3D printer.
Users can then customize thousands of liquid rubber materials to achieve the desired durability, flexibility, and curing properties, before programming the mixing ratio and injection volume. Based on these parameters, the Inj3ctor fills the 3D printed mold to create a customized, flexible part. Reducing costs and procurement risks, this process is well-suited to small-batch on-demand manufacturing of rubber prototypes and end-use parts.
According to Structur3d, this method could be utilized in numerous industries, including automotive, industrial products, aerospace, academia, energy, medical, and various consumer products where customization is desired. The platform removes expensive and time-consuming stages of manufacturing rubber products such as hand-casted molds and costly mass production tools. As large manufacturers look to the future of custom, on-demand manufacturing, the Inj3ctor could open the door to firms thinking about integrating additive manufacturing technologies into their workflows.
The first batch of Structur3d’s Inj3ctor platform is expected to ship in Q4 of this year to manufacturers. Included within the Inj3ctor Platform Bundle are the Inj3ctor, an Ultimaker S5 3D printer, accompanying materials, and additional accessories.
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Featured image shows custom gasket soluble PVA mold injecting. Image via Strctur3d.