Silicone 3D printing has been growing quite a bit over the last year. Until recently, the material was nearly impossible to 3D print due to properties that made it incapable of being heated and extruded in the same way that typical thermoplastic materials can be. A little over a year ago, however, chemical manufacturer Wacker Chemie delivered a huge announcement: they had developed a new 3D printing process that allowed for the manufacturing of quality silicone industiral 3D printed parts.
That announcement was followed a year later by the revelation that Wacker Chemie was getting ready to release the first-ever industrial silicone 3D printer, to be unveiled at K 2016, the world’s leading plastics and rubber trade show. While Wacker may be at the front of the silicone 3D printing pack, however, they certainly haven’t been unchallenged. UK design company Fripp Design Research has been working on a silicone 3D printing technology for medical implant and prosthetic purposes for a few years, and they were finally granted a patent for it earlier this year. Now, as K 2016 starts to draw to a close in Düsseldorf, another company is introducing their own technology for 3D printing silicone.
Sterne Elastomere has been in business in the south of France for 20 years, and has developed a wide range of silicone materials for industries including medical, mass transit, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, food and drink, and nuclear. They know the material well, and now they’ve announced that they’re getting into additive manufacturing with the new SiO-Shaping 1601 silicone 3D printer, also to be unveiled at K 2016.
The printer was developed for prototyping purposes, according to Sterne, so that customers could get as close of a look as possible at what the final, injection-molded product would look and feel like. Until now, prototyping had been done on a regular plastic 3D printer.
“Many customers were wondering how the final piece will look like, but plastic prototype doesn’t reveal the mechanical properties of silicone,” says Céline Laget, Sterne General Manager.
With the new silicone 3D printer, prototypes will demonstrate 100% of the elongation and material properties of the final product, according to Sterne. The SiO-Shaping 1601 had been in development for a year and a half, with help from New York-based Momentive Performance Materials. With a print volume of 250 x 200 x 100 mm, the Sio-Shaping 1601 allows for a lot of flexibility in the prototypes that can be printed, and a minimum layer height of 0.25 mm means that customers will be able to see kind of the detail and resolution they can expect from their final product.
“With a minimum printing layer of 0.25mm, we can manufacture items of extreme precision and great geometrical complexity,” said Anthony Pellafol, Materials Engineer at Sterne.
The SiO-Shaping 1601 can print objects with hardness ranging from 30 to 60 Shores A, in a variety of colors and including opaque, translucent and phosphorescent materials. Right now, it looks as if the printer will be used as an in-house manufacturing tool only, but we’ve seen many examples of manufacturing companies who develop 3D printers for their own needs only to end up selling them commercially. We’ll keep an eye on this company! Discuss in the Sterne Elastomere forum at 3DPB.com.