Voodoo Manufacturing has boosted its range of filaments with the addition of full-flex and semi-flex Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU).
The NinjaFlex filament comes in a range of 12 colours and can produce prints that offer varying levels of flexibility depending on the one you choose, can stretch and absorb repeated impacts without showing wear or any form of degradation.
In fact, in material science TPU is considered almost as a separate entity that bridges the gap between rubber and plastics. It’s exciting stuff that offers makers the chance to work with an entirely new type of substance.
It offers a whole new dimension for printing, then, and is suitable for a range of applications that you just can’t produce with simple PLA or PETG. Even if you could, the finished products just wouldn’t be as effective.
A flexible approach
Major commercial uses for this material include seals, plugs, textiles, hoses and other functional parts that need flexibility to function properly. TPU also has other uses because it has high tensile strength, it does not shear easily, it is resistant to abrasion and comes with solid chemical resistance. It does not tend to perish when it comes in contact with oil, too, which is a traditional weakness with rubber.
It can be recycled easily, so it’s relatively environmentally friendly, which is becoming an increasingly important factor in the modern age.
All these unique properties make it a favourite in the automotive industry and the medical industry that need a vast array of washers and hoses. It is also a popular material in footwear, where its durability and flexibility are prized assets. Unsurprisingly, it is also found in rubber dinghies and other inflatable items that have to withstand serious abuse.
It has been used in traditional forms of manufacturing for some time. It is exceptionally malleable when heated and vacuum forming is just one of many methods that can be used to tame this spectacular substance. 3D printing places its own demands on a compound, though. It was never going to be as simple as just rolling it out into a filament.
Intense beta testing
Voodo Manufacturing’s NinjaFlex was put to work on a number of demanding projects in the Beta testing phase. New York fashion house Chromat used the material to produce a dress comprising 90 separate printed and flexible pieces.
Sensel, meanwhile, wanted protective and customized overlays for its Morph multi-touch pressure sensitive trackpads. Voodoo Manufacturing’s TPU filament and advanced 3D printing techniques gave the tech manufacturer the exact finish it wanted.
TPU is becoming increasingly popular and global sales are now approximately half that of the ubiquitous PLA, according to a recent report by marketsandmarkets.com. That gap continues to close as the manufacturers perfect the production process and the price comes down due to sheer economies of scale.
A big deal for Voodoo
“We are excited that TPU also opens up our addressable market by 50%,” said Jonathan Schwartz, co-founder and chief product officer at Voodoo Manufacturing. “I think we are going to see a lot of new and innovative applications for TPU now that it is finally made accessible at volume by our service.
“In the last few months, we’ve been testing TPU filaments for 3D printing to see if there’s a way that we can offer this material scalably and reliably. We’re excited to share that we’ve been successful in developing internal technologies that make it possible for us to scalably offer TPU. We look forward to working with partners to push the boundaries of what’s possible.”
We look forward to the results of this new generation of materials and we know that Voodoo Manufacturing and the other pioneers of the 3D printing world will continue to push the envelope when it comes to material science. We have barely scratched the surface of what is possible and the filaments of the future could be as exciting as the machines that print them.
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