3dp_silicone_wacker-chemie_logoMunich-based global materials and technology manufacturer Wacker Chemie announced that they have developed the world’s first industrial 3D printer that uses silicone materials. The world will get their first look at the ACEO Imagine Series K 3D printer at K 2016: International Trade Fair for Plastics and Rubber, where it will be in operation throughout the entire trade show at the Wacker booth. Currently there are no mature, industry-ready additive manufacturing technologies for silicone rubbers, making the process developed by Wacker a milestone for the 3D printing industry. The silicone 3D printing process was initially announced last summer, but the market-ready option is considerably faster and has more streamlined footprint and compact design.

The silicone 3D printing workflow.

The silicone 3D printing workflow. (Click to enlarge.)

Currently the automotive and aerospace industries are the primary users of industrial 3D printing technology, though medical applications are growing rapidly in popularity. The ability to 3D print using medical-grade silicone will make 3D printing technology even more attractive to that industry. Especially with the ability to manufacture silicone parts and implants with customized or complex geometries not possible using traditional mass production methods like injection molding.

“In these types of applications, silicones can display their favorable properties particularly well. Silicones are heat resistant, flexible at low temperatures, transparent and biocompatible. They can furthermore be pigmented in any color and have good damping properties. The [Imagine Series K] is based on the ACEO technology – a drop-on-demand method developed by Wacker. It can be used to make parts and assemblies with complex geometries, as well as ‘impossible products,’ which could not previously be produced,” said head of Wacker Silicone Research Bernd Pachaly, who was responsible for the ACEO team.

An early test print of the ACEO process.

An early test print of the ACEO process.

The ACEO Imagine Series K system makes it easy to manufacture prototypes or small runs of silicone parts and implants quickly and efficiently. The ACEO technology is based on a drop-on-demand method that offers product designers new options and possibilities in the development of new and existing products. 3D printing technology is a mold-free process capable of producing parts with more complexity than conventional manufacturing methods, so it makes more design and fabrication options available. Additionally, 3D printing technology eliminates the mold manufacturing process, so companies can start production on new products immediately.

The drop-on-demand technology used by the ACEO Imagine Series K produces final parts that are almost indistinguishable from injection-molded parts. The printhead deposits tiny drops of silicone material on a sterile substrate and builds up the print layer by layer, just as with other 3D printing technologies. The silicone used by the Imagine Series K has been formulated so the individual droplets will flow together before a curing process, activated by UV light, binds them together. The technology also allows for the use of a water-soluble support material that makes complex geometries, overhangs and internal lattices possible.

The final ACEO technology is capable of extremely complex prints.

The final ACEO technology is capable of extremely complex prints.

Wacker is also launching ACEO as their new silicone rubbers 3D printing, development, consultation and services brand in August 2016. This will include the launching of a web-portal where customers can upload their own 3D designs to price and order silicone 3D printing services. The ACEO Print Fab will manage the production of the silicone parts and ship them to their customers all over the world. Additionally, the interdisciplinary ACEO team will begin offering their consultation and development services for the design and production of silicone parts.

While there was no date provided, Wacker will also be opening the ACEOcampus, a technology center where customers will be able to test their own product ideas in an Open Print Lab. The campus will be located near the company headquarters in Burghausen, Germany. The K 2016 trade show is taking place in Düsseldorf, Germany, from October 19th to the 26th, 2016. You can visit Wacker on the exhibit floor in Hall 6, Booth A10. Discuss this new technology further over in the Wacker Silicone 3D Printer forum at 3DPB.com.

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