AMS Spring 2023

Rewriting the Rules for Producing Rubber Parts

6K SmarTech

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For manufacturers like Aerosport Additive, the options for producing rubber parts have long been limited. The Ohio-based service bureau, which creates parts for customers in the aerospace, automotive, military and consumer industries, has historically had only two options – urethane casting or injection molding.

Though ideal for prototyping and low-volume runs, urethane casting is a slow, labor-intensive process that involves producing a master model of a part, using that model to create a silicone mold, which is then used to create parts.

Injection molding is used to mass produce parts, but involves long lead times and high costs – tooling can easily require a month or more to fabricate and cost thousands of dollars.

While additive manufacturing offered a way to overcome those challenges, it came with a significant caveat – though many materials could be used to print flexible parts, none could match the look, feel and performance of real rubber – until now.

The introduction of Elastic ToughRubber (ETR) is rewriting those rules.

Available exclusively on the ETEC Xtreme 8K, ETR was developed by Adaptive3D, and has opened the door to printing a wide variety of rubber parts, from baffles to lattices to end of arm tooling and more.

To start, Aerosport Additive is printing parts using ETR 70, so named because it delivers parts with a shore A70 hardness – similar to shoe soles or automobile tire treads. That measure – tough enough for consistent use, yet soft enough to remain pliable – marks a “sweet spot” for a broad range of applications, making it highly desired by many customers.

The ETR material, however, is only half of the equation that’s allowing Aerosport Additive to transform the production of rubber parts.

The second half is the Xtreme 8K printer.

With the largest build volume of any production-grade DLP printer, the system allows the company to print everything from very large parts to thousands of small parts in a single build.

That flexibility allows the company to quote jobs in a variety of ways, and win more business by tailoring the production method to each customer’s precise needs.

The system’s innovative, top-down printing method eliminates the peeling step required in traditional DLP, allowing the 8K to deliver exceptionally fast  print speeds, helping to dramatically reduce lead times, a key consideration for many customers.

By comparison, urethane casting may require as many as 10 days before a single part is poured, and months of lead time can be required to fabricate injection molding tooling.

With the 8K, Aerosport Additive can deliver finished parts in just days.

That speed may even save the company enough time to add two full builds per day, allowing them to take on additional jobs with the increased production capacity.

This four-way switch is a prime example of the transformation made possible by the combination of Elastic ToughRubber and the Xtreme8K.

Used for making fine adjustments to an airplane’s trim controls, these switches are typically made from rubber for its non-slip texture, and are produced via urethane casting due to their relatively small volume – only a few hundred are manufactured annually.

That casting process is laboriously slow, requiring several weeks to create a mold and limits production to just a few pieces a time.

With the Xtreme 8K, as many as 150 switches – virtually the entire annual production – can be printed in a single, 2.5 hour build.

The inherent flexibility of additive manufacturing means the company can easily change or fine-tune the switch design to fit the needs of different customers, or customize parts to include a company’s logo simply by updating the digital file and sending it to the printer.

With more complex parts, like this flexible tube, the benefits of printing rubber parts are even clearer.

Designed as a pass-though to allow wires to run through a door that has a range of motion, the baffling on these tubes is extremely difficult to create via casting and requires specialized mold cores.

Once cast, those cores are difficult to remove without damage, making them effectively disposable, adding to the cost and lead time to produce the parts.

Using the Xtreme 8K, as many as 30 of these tubes can be printed in just hours in a single build, as opposed to producing a single part per day using traditional methods.

Another challenging part to create via molding, this threaded seal is used to prevent dust or other debris from damaging suspension parts.

To create the threading for this part requires a complex mold and core, which can lead to challenges in unmolding the part without damaging it.

With printing, complex designs – like threaded parts, undercuts and complex curves – can be created with ease. And because no tooling is required, parts can easily be refined or customized to meet customers’ precise needs with virtually no impact on cost or lead times.

For Aerosport Additive, the combination of the Xtreme 8K printer and Elastic ToughRubber material has been nothing short of transformational.

Used together, they allow the company for the first time to print a wide range of parts – from small switches to comlex, threaded dust seals – with the look, feel and performance of real rubber.

The enormous flexibility of additive manufacturing allows the company to produce very large parts, hundreds of small parts or a combination of both, all in a single build, and has enabled Aerosport Additive to expand their production capacity and grow their business by tailoring production to their customers’ specific needs.

Read the complete case study to learn more.

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