Multi-Material 3D Printing for Advanced Material Capabilities

| The Essentium Team

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various materials in a stack to be used for multi-material 3D printing.

Essentium’s newest High Speed Extrusion (HSE™) machine, the HSE 280i HT 3D Printer, is a powerhouse independent dual extrusion (IDEX) platform that offers the speed, strength, and scale to handle the most demanding applications. However, as a materials-first company, Essentium knows that real innovation happens when advanced technology meets high-quality materials.

The HSE 280i HT 3D Printer is the first industrial 3D printer to offer true IDEX, where each head is fully independent on both the X and Y-axis. This technology not only allows users to speed up support printing, but it also unlocks multi-material 3D printing for users to blend material properties at print speeds and part strengths never before seen in additive manufacturing (AM).

Prosthetics

Using AM to create prostheses has been at the heart of Essentium since its inception. Over the years, they have achieved strength through speed, created materials with superior mechanical properties, and now have made it possible to mix material modalities for prostheses.

When parts interface with the human body in applications such as sporting equipment, seating, ergonomic solutions, and prostheses, blended materials are crucial. In these applications, force transfers from the human action into a rigid mechanical structure. To do this comfortably it requires a gradual transition from a soft interface, to load-bearing materials, and finally to a reinforced structure that can handle heavy loads.

In the Orthotics and Prosthetics industry, creating a comfortable device is difficult. The complications of finding a comfortable fit for residual limbs that can have nerve pain can be a challenge, and every patient is different. Using multi-material 3D printing, designers can create thin walls of Essentium TPU 74D that are flexible and soft, with Essentium PA-CF structures that are rigid and blend the two to make a gradient. The rigid carbon fiber polymers support the patient’s weight, while the flexible windows conform to the limb geometry for greater comfort.

part with soluble support printed with multi-material 3D printing.

Soluble Support

One of the primary capabilities that IDEX unlocks for additive manufacturing is the ability to print soluble support. Essentium has been working hard to integrate water-soluble support materials compatible with all HSE-certified materials to enable industrial users to manufacture jigs, fixtures, tools, and end use-parts with far more complexity than breakaway supports. Printing with soluble support eliminates the majority of labor-intensive manual support removal, saving time and money on the factory floor.

Overmolding

Overmolding in traditional manufacturing is an injection molding process that is used to manufacture parts with multiple materials. This is necessary for parts that are made with a rigid material that needs grips, bumpers, or insulation made from a softer material. With multi-process mode on the HSE 280i HT 3D Printer, sophisticated overmolding is possible for applications that aren’t possible with injection molding.

This application is particularly useful when creating jigs and fixtures that humans have to handle. For example, take an alignment jig printed with Essentium HTN-CF25. This material is ideal for its mechanical properties, but nylons are low-friction and can be slippery. With multi-process mode, manufacturers can print TPU grips that people can hold on to.

Integral Seals

One of the limitations of printing high-strength materials is creating a good seal. For parts that need to handle air or fluid, manufacturers must cut out silicone or rubber gasket that matches up with the flange before that part can seal. With multi-material 3D printing, manufacturers can print rigid materials with a flexible seal, built right into the part. This eliminates bottlenecks caused by post-processing and allows production to scale.

sophisticated black fixture using multi-material 3D printing.
 

Sophisticated Jigs and Fixtures

Another advanced material capability that multi-material 3D printing has unlocked is creating sophisticated jigs and fixtures for electronics manufacturing. Eliminating electrostatic discharge (ESD) is a high priority for electronics manufacturers. To reduce risk, entire parts are printed with ESD-safe material which is effective but can be costly. To save material, manufacturers can now print a blended structure with ESD-safe material and general use material where each material is needed.

For example, for structures printed to reduce electromagnetic interference, it makes sense to print the entire part with an ESD-safe material. However, if that enclosure houses a Bluetooth antenna that needs to transmit and receive signals, the ESD-safe material could block signals. To solve this issue, most of the enclosure could be printed with an ESD-safe material to isolate electrical noise, and the area that houses the antenna can be printed with Essentium PCTG to ensure good transmission.

Lining

Every once in a while, an application demands properties from two different materials, and choosing one or the other could sacrifice strength, surface finish, cost, or countless other properties.

For example, for pipes and flanges, it is best to use a stiff material like Essentium HTN-CF25 or Essentium PET-CF. However, if the fluid that moves through the pipe is chemically aggressive, those materials will fail because they are not chemically resistant. Instead of sacrificing strength, manufacturers can print an interlining of a chemically resistant material that protects the structure.

Print Shells

Printing with carbon-fiber-reinforced material is the filament of choice for applications that require strength. These filaments are light weight, have excellent mechanical properties, and are low warp, resulting in a quality surface finish. However, they can be abrasive or can wear down surfaces that the parts come in contact with. The HSE 280i HT 3D Printer offers the best of both worlds. With multi-material 3d printing manufacturers can print a carbon-fiber-reinforced core with a candy shell of a non-marring material.

This process could eclipse CNC machining in the oil and gas industries. For example, manufacturers may print a bushing that wears against a metal sleeve. In this application, a strong material with creep resistance like Essentium HTN-CF25 would be ideal, but because they don’t want to scratch the sleeve, they use Essentium PEEK for the surface properties. With multi-material 3D printing, that manufacturer could print the core of the bushing in Essentium HTN-CF25 and a candy shell of Essentium PEEK, giving them a strong, non-marring, and lightweight part without sacrificing strength or surface properties.

What material capabilities are you missing out on? Request a quote to see how the HSE 280i HT 3D Printer can advance your applications.

For a closer look at Essentium’s newest technology, visit the Essentium Experience.

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