French 3D printing services provider Sculpteo has added yet another 3D printing material to its already impressive catalog of almost fifty materials and finishes. Their new flexible Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU) material was developed exclusively for their selective laser sintering (SLS) process and is made from an extremely fine polyurethane granular powder. Sculpteo says that it is the most flexible 3D printable TPU material available and they have already spent months testing it out with partners in the medical sector and the fashion industry.
The new TPU material offers a high elasticity while still remaining quite durable and capable of significant abrasion resistance. While TPU is still remarkably strong, it isn’t as hard as many of the other nylon-based plastic materials currently offered by Sculpteo. What it lacks in rigidity it it makes up for in versatility: beyond being highly flexible, TPU is inexpensive in comparison to other plastics and is capable of highly precise and detailed 3D prints. The material is soft where it is needed, however still durable and not fragile or easily damaged. It can be used to 3D print functional objects capable of reproducing complex mechanical properties as either a prototype or an end-use product.
“This new type of material puts 3D printing at the same level as traditional production methods by – finally – making it possible to create soft, flexible objects that are truly functional rather than simply prototypes. We are enthusiastic about the first applications conceived by our clients using this completely new material. From medical applications to the world of textiles, we are committed to working alongside the industry leaders of today and tomorrow,” said Sculpteo CEO and co-founder Clément Moreau.
Sculpteo has been testing TPU for several months, though they have been delaying its release while they verified that it was capable of 3D printing consistent, reproducible parts. Technically the material is still in beta, however they decided to open it up to everyone at this point in the process to get more feedback from their customers and the 3D printing community. They are also seeking new partners to develop real-world uses and test cases for the material to both prove its functionality and verify the materials quality. Sculpteo debuted the new material at this year’s CES and is displayed a wide range of samples and test prints made in their European factory at their booth.
Here is a video of the European Sculpteo Factory, including the printing of their new TPU material:
One of their early material testers for TPU was Dr. Jean-François Paul from the Institut Montsouris Paris in France who used the material to develop a realistic model of the human heart. The model closely reproduces the mechanical properties of a real human heart and is a completely anatomically accurate model. That high level of detail and accuracy includes printing the complex internal structures of the heart. Because of both the flexibility and strength of TPU these 3D printable hearts can provide doctors and surgeons with a very realistic teaching aid that can be used to train with before performing surgical procedures. The material could also be used to 3D printing organs and internal structures to help doctors in surgical pre-planning.
Sculpteo also worked closely with fashion designer and recent graduate of the prestigious French fashion design school ESMOD to test uses of the material in unconventional applications. Anastasia Ruiz designed a clothing collection that integrated 3D printed materials into everyday fashion, and rather than replace fabrics with 3D printable materials she instead incorporated several 3D printed embellishments, accessories and features into traditional materials. The purpose of the collection was to prove that 3D printed clothing could be wearable, accessible and reasonably priced. Sculpteo’s TPU material was incorporated into her Virus collection.
Like all of the other powder-based SLS 3D printing materials offered by Sculpteo objects printed with TPU flexible plastic do not require any support material because the powder bed itself acts as support. The opens up the possibility for designers and mechanical engineers to design objects with complex geometries that would be impossible to manufacture any other way. Their SLS printers are capable of producing parts up to a size of 15 x 15 x 12 cm (5.9 x 5.9 x 4.7 inch) and the TPU material requires a minimum wall-thickness of 1.2 mm. You can learn more about the properties and uses of TPU over on Sculpteo’s Flexible Plastic material page. Discuss this new material in the Flexible Plastic forum on 3DPB.com