Silicone is still comparatively limited in 3D printing, with a few firms specializing in the technology and a few more offering printheads capable of depositing silicone materials. That space is slowly growing, however. The latest firm to increase its presence in silicone 3D printing is innovatiQ, formerly known as German RepRap, whose LiQ320 silicone 3D printers, will now be distributed in France by Multistation SAS.
Multistation will have exclusive rights to distribute innovatiQ’s large format and silicone 3D printers in the country. innovatiQ’s technology is unique in that it features thermal polymerization using a lamp to produce parts. This means that items that come out of the LiQ320 are immediately functional, without the need for further post-processing.
Typically, in additive manufacturing, alternatives to silicone dominate for parts that require elastomeric properties. This usually means thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU), which doesn’t have the same resistance to chemicals, wide range of temperatures, and ultraviolet light as silicone. This is one reason why silicone is such a popular material choice in the medical industry, where sterilizability is crucial.
innovatiQ claims that its printer parts have properties similar to those made with injection molding. Additionally, the system can print with polyurethane. The company claims that it could potentially be integrated into a print farm with automatic unloading, but it is unclear if this is a feature that they offer. However, because of the larger business that owns innovatiQ, it wouldn’t be surprising if some interesting automation features were integrated into their products in the future.
In early 2020, German RepRap was acquired by the Hehl and Keinath families, the owners of German injection molding manufacturer Arburg. The LiQ320 is the rebranded L320 3D printer, first announced in 2019. Arburg already sells the Freeformer 3D printer, which prints using thermoplastic pellets to complement the firm’s injection molding business.
Because Arburg develops robotic systems for semi-automated production cells, it will be exciting to see how it may integrate these same processes into 3D printing. This may be something that the company is pursuing with clients privately on a case-by-case basis. For that reason, the company may be suggesting that the LiQ320 could be feasibly integrated into an automated print farm environment.
If that’s the case, innovatiQ may have a leg up on the competition in silicone 3D printing, and even many 3D printer manufacturers, many of whom are likely working on their own methods for integrating automated robotics into their product solutions. Though Spectroplast and VisoTec also offering silicone 3D printing technologies, the most prominent competitor is WACKER, whose ACEO subsidiary offers silicone 3D printing as a service.
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