New 3D printing technologies are being developed at such a rapid pace that it’s easy to imagine a near future in which there isn’t anything that can’t be 3D printed. We can already print living tissue, for heaven’s sake, and recently a patent application was filed for a 3D printer that prints diamonds. What’s left? As it turns out, there are still quite a few materials that haven’t made it to the 3D printer yet – but companies like 3M are working steadily at getting them there.
Fluorinated polymers, aka fluoropolymers, may not be as glamorous as diamonds, but they’re an integral material in numerous manufacturing processes. The fluorocarbon-based plastics are distinguished by their high-performance durability and resistance to harsh chemicals and high temperatures. Used in everything from aerospace and defense applications to non-stick cooking surfaces, fluoropolymers are everywhere – except for in 3D printers.
That may soon change, though, as product development company 3M has filed a patent for a new type of 3D printing technology that would allow for the additive manufacturing of fully fluorinated polymers. The technology will mean that complex structures can be manufactured quickly and cheaply, whereas the same parts would often be prohibitively expensive to produce with other manufacturing techniques.
While there are numerous varieties of fluorinated polymers, perhaps the one that will benefit the most from 3D printing is polytetrafluoroethylene or PTFE, more commonly known as Teflon. PTFE, which is frequently used in applications such as sealing and lining, generates a lot of waste in production. 3D printing it – which 3M will be the first to do – will significantly cut back on that waste. In addition, companies who take advantage of the process will be able to manufacture complicated, multi-component polymer structures in one piece rather than having to mold and assemble multiple parts.
“3D printing is developing at a rapid pace and is opening up a number of exciting developments for the processing of fully-fluorinated polymers, particularly for PTFE which is a real quantum leap,” said Paula Johnson-Mason, Global Director Fluoropolymers at 3M. “This additional new manufacturing process will give us increased flexibility and accelerate product design cycles as spare parts can be manufactured digitally without the need to create new tools.”
3M and their subsidiary, Dyneon, will be introducing the new patent-pending technology at the global plastics and rubber trade show K 2016, which will be taking place in Düsseldorf from October 19 to 26. Expect more details about the technology to be revealed at that time; at this point, 3M hasn’t said much in terms of the specifics of the fluoropolymer 3D printing process. They’re excited about it, though, which means the entire manufacturing industry should be excited. That’s one more 3D printable material – or, really, in this case, class of materials – that can be checked off the list. Discuss further over in the 3D Printed Fluoropolymers forum at 3DPB.com.[Source: EPPM]