It was only a little over a year ago that silicone 3D printing became an industrial technology for the first time. Wacker Chemie introduced its ACEO brand and ACEO Imagine Series K 3D printer to the world in July 2016, bringing silicone into the 3D printing industry at a level it had not existed at before. Silicone 3D printing wasn’t brand new at that point, but Wacker Chemie’s ACEO team was the first to introduce an industrial 3D printer for silicones, along with a comprehensive, mature 3D printing technology.
ACEO’s silicone materials were the first elastomers that could be 3D printed while retaining properties such as biocompatibility or temperature or radiation resistance. The company developed a technology for 3D printing the materials, known as drop-on-demand, that involved the deposition of tiny drops of silicone material on a sterile substrate. The droplets flow together before being bound together by a UV curing process. The material and process are also compatible with a water-soluble support material. The ACEO team then developed hardware and software surrounding the material and technology, and presented it for the first time last summer.
Silicone 3D printing is well-suited to the creation of functional prototypes, small product series, biomodels and more. It can create complex inner structures and what ACEO calls “impossible objects,” or items with geometries that have never been able to be produced before. The ACEO team has now taken its technology a step further, and at formnext in November, they will present another first: the ability to 3D print different silicone materials together at the same time.
“This latest development is yet another milestone in ACEO‘s history,” said Dr. Bernd Pachaly, Head of Project 3D Printing. “Silicones of different colors, hardness or even chemical or physical properties can now be placed independent from each other at any given point throughout the process, which allows sharp as well as merging gradients. The result: even more freedom of design in the construction of objects with multiple materials 3D printed in one single process, in particular soft and hard segments.”
Silicone 3D printing has come a long way, and Wacker and ACEO have played a huge role in its process. ACEO serves as Wacker’s silicone 3D printing, consultation, development and services brand, and also launched the first web shop for 3D printing with silicones. Users can upload their designs, get a quote, then have those designs 3D printed in silicone and shipped to them. Earlier this year, the company opened the ACEO Open Print Lab, a facility offering workshops and hands-on experience with ACEO silicone 3D printing technology.
Wacker Chemie, and its ACEO brand in particular, have firmly established a reputation as pioneers in the silicone 3D printing field. This new process of 3D printing multiple silicone materials together should further serve to solidify that reputation. In a little over a year, silicone 3D printing has gone from a rarely-used technology to a full industrial one, and it’s only continuing to advance.
Wacker and ACEO will be presenting the new process at formnext, which is taking place in Frankfurt, Germany from November 14 to 17. 3DPrint.com will be on-site at the busy conference to see the latest in additive manufacturing.
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