One of the newest materials to hit the 3D printing market is silicone, which has gone from being a rarity in 3D printing to suddenly being almost everywhere. The first industrial silicone 3D printer was debuted by Wacker Chemie over the summer, and revealed to the North American market just last week, but the company already has several competitors developing their own silicone 3D printers. French manufacturer Sterne Elastomere introduced a silicone 3D printer last month, and now California’s Advanced Life Technologies (ALT) LLC has announced that they’re developing a silicone additive manufacturing process as well.
We were first introduced to service bureau and materials developer ALT LLC last month. The company offers an impressive range of materials both from third party companies and from their own labs, and currently they’re in the process of expanding their repertoire to include a novel silicone 3D printing technology. As a manufacturing material, silicone, or poly-siloxane, has a lot of benefits: low thermal conductivity, low toxicity, and high gas permeability, just to name a few. It’s a durable, versatile and highly temperature-resistant material.
Generally, the manufacture of silicone parts is usually carried out through injection molding, but it’s a time-consuming and expensive process, which is why the emergence of silicone 3D printing technology is so appealing. ALT LLC’s technology, which is currently in development, is another step forward as it allows for simultaneous multi-material 3D printing of silicones and silicone composites with varied viscosity, color and shore hardness.
While not a great deal of detail has been released about the process at this time, ALT LLC states that the technology shows a lot of promise for the manufacture of silicone products at much less cost than traditional manufacturing methods.
“The simultaneous deposition of a wide range of materials is a significant achievement,” said Dr. Jonathon Barton, CEO of ALT LLC. “Particularly, being able to deposit unique silicone blends successfully will enable a new set of applications for Additive Manufacturing.”
To demonstrate the new technology, ALT LLC 3D printed a cross section of a human leg model, which you can see below. The multiple materials allow for the clear differentiation of skin, muscle, adipose, fascia and bone, with empty spaces to represent blood vessels. ALT’s medical division already produces high-quality, finely detailed 3D printed medical models, and their research and development team is continually working to expand the company’s portfolio.
In addition to medical models, the potential applications for silicone materials are many. Sensors, microfluidics, seals and gaskets, and adhesives are just a few of the products that this versatile material lends itself to, and 3D printing it expands its potential even further by reducing the cost and time required to produce it, as well as allowing for increased design flexibility.
ALT LLC has already demonstrated that they are an innovative and experimental company with the skill and expertise to create some really interesting developments in the world of 3D printing materials. Their silicone 3D printing technology has the potential to greatly expand their business – as well as the silicone 3D printing industry overall – and we look forward to learning more about it in the future. Discuss in the ALT LLC forum at 3DPB.com.