The Digital Manufacturing Center (DMC), an office for 3D printing services, has launched a process in the UK called silicone additive manufacturing (SAM). The technology developed by a Swiss company called Spectroplast is aimed at the automotive, industrial and medical sectors.
High-quality elastomer parts are still a bit rare in 3D printing compared to rigid materials. This is due to the limited selection of elastomers that can be processed by the various 3D printing technologies. Thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) is the material used in extrusion 3D printing. The same applies to powder bed fusion, which is even more limited with the printable TPU types.
As a thermoset, silicone is even less common in industry, but it has physical properties that are not available with TPU and other thermoplastic elastomers. Resistance to chemicals, a wide temperature range, and ultraviolet light, in particular, are beneficial for certain applications, such as sterilizable medical devices.
Spectroplast is a spin-off from ETH Zurich, the renowned Swiss research university. The exact nature of the SAM process has not been disclosed, but the company describes it as being linked to stereolithography and digital light processing. In a press release, DMC said, “SAM selectively exposes silicone to a light source and forms very thin solid layers that build up into the final object.”
In addition, the parts made with SAM are described as isotropic, which means that unlike most 3D printed parts, they have uniform physical properties in every direction. This would indicate that SAM involves some form of continuous DLP.
So far, the company has offered four silicone molds with a bank hardness of A20, A35, A50 or A60. All four are considered biocompatible and meet the ISO DIN EN10993-05 / 10 standards. This means that it is not only safe for skin contact, but is also implantable and open for use in medical devices, dental solutions, prostheses and more . With a temperature resistance in the range from -50 to 200 ° C, articles manufactured with SAM can serve as seals, gaskets, grommets, dampers and hoses for industrial applications. The currently achievable layer thickness is 0.1 mm and the construction volume of the current platform is 120 x 130 x 75 mm. However, Spectroplast is working on expanding this to 200 x 440 x 300 mm.
DMC will now use the technology in Great Britain As a spin-out from the engineering office KW Special Projects, DMC has a 2,000 m² production facility that will offer 3D printing services in the region from the first quarter of this year. The company will provide 3D printing services including mass-produced parts.
It’s worth noting that, although DMC claims to be the first company to offer silicone 3D printing in the UK, around 2014 Picsima developed a method for 3D printing silicone. Unfortunately, the company announced that it would sell its patents in 2020 when the founder began a teaching career.
The multinational silicone company Wacker Chemie has now developed its own method for 3D printing silicone. Wacker’s ACEO 3D printing service will continue to operate with inkjet technology. It appears that customers in the UK are able to order parts through the service, but the comparison with what Spectroplast and DMC offer is limited.
ACEO enables parts up to 200 cm3 to be printed. It seems like it only offers one type of material with a bank of A 50. Parts of medical products are possible with ISO10993 conformity up to class 2a. That being said, it is difficult to know how the two processes compare.
Now that silicone 3D printing is multi-player, maybe it is time for Picsima to get back into the game?