3D printing materials just keep getting cooler. “Specialty” filaments have been on the rise, with the introduction of materials with conductive, magnetic, and glow in the dark properties, just to name a few. Now comes Essemplex, a shape memory filament created by Cornerstone Research Group (CRG) and currently collecting funding on Kickstarter.
Researchers have been experimenting with 3D printing shape memory materials, but Essemplex, if successful, could bring them into the mainstream. The thermoplastic shape memory polymer was developed for use in a number of applications, including injection molding and thermoforming. CRG used the resin to create a filament that prints as a rigid plastic, but can be repeatedly reshaped after processing by heating it to a temperature below its melting point. This allows for the construction of items that can be stretched, reconfigured, customized, and otherwise manipulated as shown below:
The filament is still a work in progress; the Kickstarter campaign is attempting to both raise money and further develop the filament using feedback from its supporters, who will double as beta testers. The filament was developed using a MakerBot Replicator 2X; its compatibility with other printers will be determined during the beta testing period. Depending on feedback, CRG hopes to eventually offer a range of options for the filament including different colors and variable activation temperatures, and to even develop some cool effects, like a version of the filament that changes color when heated to the reshaping temperature. Essemplex’s current iteration is pretty cool already, though. Features of the filament include:
- Prints as easily as any other rigid filament, but can be reconfigured afterwards for free-form customization
- Processes at a temperature similar to ABS, which could enable components to be fabricated using both rigid and shape memory materials
- Eliminates the need for an iterative design process
- Won’t jam or clog printers like flexible filaments
- Real-time ergonomic shaping and contouring is possible after processing
- Ability to print “inflatable” or “stretchable” objects that exceed a typical build volume
- Enables dynamic objects that can move or be reconfigured in response to heat
The Kickstarter campaign aims to raise at least $25,000 by January 17. Supporters will receive samples of the filament depending on the size of their contribution ($20 will get you a 0.10 kg sample, while $90 gets you a full 1 kg spool), as well as “voting rights” that will allow them to have a say in the further development of the material. Major supporters who pledge $1,000 or more will have the opportunity to meet CRG CEO Patrick J. Hood and tour the company’s facilities in Dayton, Ohio.
Contributors who donate $125 or more will be considered official beta testers and will receive two shipments of the filament: the first will be shipped in March 2016, and feedback from that shipment will be used to develop the second shipment, which will be sent out in approximately July 2016.
CRG has been working with shape memory polymers for over 15 years, and Essemplex has been in development for a long time. The company envisions numerous potential applications for the material, including custom orthopedic devices, custom sports grips, cell phone cases and more. If their campaign is successful, it could be a major step forward for the industry. Have you tried this filament out? Let us know your thoughts in the Essemplex Filament forum thread on 3DPB.co.