The old adage, “It’s the little things” comes to mind when you consider the significance of the small parts that make up the machines and structures we’ve come to rely on in our built environment. The same is also true for bearings, which literally bear some of the friction between moving parts in part of a larger machine or mechanical structure. For example, if your average lawn mower doesn’t have strong bearings to hold the machine spindle in place, this can reduce the life cycle of the mower by producing extra wear and tear on its engine. While they are frequently out of our sight, good mechanical bearings bear the weight of the well functioning machines we use everyday.
Last week, Airwolf 3D — headquartered in Costa Mesa, California — announced that it has successfully designed 3D printed bearings. These little parts may be small, but they have a tall order, because they can ostensibly revolutionize the industry. It seems that 3D printed bearings bear much weight in the design arena, and the Airwolf 3D team is ahead of the pack in this very important category.
Much of Airwolf 3D’s “point-matrix multi-axis bearing” innovation derives from its 3D printable only “complex geometries” and its use of a filament called “iglide” –produced by plastics innovator igus — that is self-lubricating. igus’ website explains that it is the first 3D printer filament (available in 1.75 and 3.00 mm spool diameters) intended for “dynamic applications” that provide more design flexibility and cost efficient prototyping. To summarize, iglide can be used to print bearings because it is so strong; it is the first filament that can handle repetitive movements and it is 50 times more abrasion resistant than any other available 3D printing materials.
Eric Wolf, the cofounder and chairman of Airwolf 3D, explains the significance of the development for 3D printing design:
“This blows the door open on what designers can do with bearings… Not only can you print custom, functional bearings on your desktop, but you can create designs that have never been considered before because of the limitations of older technology.”
Wolf also continues to explain that this multi-axis 3D printed bearing also speeds up prototyping and manufacturing processes since the printable bearing can be used in place of expensive or inaccessible bearings manufactured traditionally. Printed on Airwolf 3D’s HD 2x printer, the iglide filament can also be used on other Airwold printer models — HD, HDX, and XL. This bearing design is proprietary, but Airwolf 3D is offering a downloadable traditional bearing model that it encourages designers to tinker with.
Let us know your thoughts on this story, over at the Airwolf 3D Printed Bearings thread at 3DPB.com.