Rather than quietly adding its newest high performance material to its portfolio, EnvisionTEC decided to introduce its E-RigidForm in a big way – by 3D printing the world’s longest resin chain in a single piece, 328 feet in all.
The chain was 3D printed on EnvisionTEC’s largest resin 3D printer, an Xede 3SP, which has a build area of 18″ by 18″ by 18″. The EnvisionTEC Mega-Chain, as it’s been dubbed, features 6,144 links, each measuring 1.5 inches. The print job was arranged in 16 layers, supported on each other like floors of a building
A weaker material would have sagged while printing such a long, heavy item in so many layers, but E-RigidForm was up to the task. E-RigidForm is a polyurethane-like resin that 3D prints rigid, hard parts for both prototyping and end-use functions. It’s one of the most durable materials created for 3D printing thus far, with a tensile strength of 68-73 MPa at 7% elongation at break.
“E-RigidForm is a breakthrough material for use on our 3SP line of 3D printers, which offer very large build areas without sacrificing speed and accuracy,” said EnvisionTEC CEO Al Siblani. “A print job of this size and complexity would not have been possible before, simply because of the stiffness required during the 3D printing process for so many links and layers.”
In all, the chain took more than two weeks to design and over 99 hours spanning four days to 3D print. It features 6,144 links, each measuring 1.5 inches. It was printed in 16 layers, unattended, and was so complex that it required a computer with extreme processing power to generate the layers and supports.
The EnvisionTEC Mega-Chain was designed by EnvisionTEC 3D Builder Robert Montes, with digital processing and 3D printing support from colleagues Erica Finkowski, Jason Spurlock and Josue Nunes.
Before 3D printing the final chain, Montes printed a shorter test chain on an EnvisionTEC Perfactory 4 XL 3D printer. This chain was impressive enough by itself, with 639 links and 14 layers, finishing at 40.5 feet in length. It took 19 hours to build. It was such a complex project that Montes labeled it “test1” on his computer, thinking it would take a few tries to get it right.
“I was checking it every couple of minutes,” he said.
The chain printed perfectly on the first try, however. It was printed in E-RigidForm Charcoal (the material also comes in amber, in which the final chain was printed). The test run taught Montes some valuable things – in that job, he printed the links either horizontally or vertically, but in the final print, he decided to print some of them at 45-degree angles to fit more links in each layer.
The chain was originally supposed to be 625 feet, with 9,414 links printed in 15 layers, filling the entire build area of the Xede 3SP. There were some complications, however; the job was so big with so many objects that Montes’ computer kept crashing whenever he tried to generate supports for the design. Then Finkowski, who has a Master’s degree in Fine Arts from Temple University and is an expert in CAD/CAM technology, stepped in to help.
“Erica makes her own computers at home for fun,” said Montes, “so she helped out on one of her home supercomputers.”
The chain was redesigned to its current 328-feet design to make sure that it could be printed in time for RAPID + TCT, but it was still long enough to set a new record. It took Finkowski’s home computer an hour and a half to process the print job, which printed successfully on the first try just like the test run.
An event to showcase the chain and publicly validate its final length was scheduled for the morning of Friday, April 20th in Cobo Center in downtown Detroit, which will host RAPID + TCT in 2019.
Other 3D printed chains have been printed in pieces and then assembled; EnvisionTEC left the Mega-Chain unfinished so that people could clearly see that it had been 3D printed all in one piece.
The chain will be on display at EnvisionTEC’s booth at this year’s RAPID + TCT, which is taking place from April 23rd to 26th in Fort Worth, Texas.
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