By Olivia Cahoon
Part 3 of 4
While three-dimensional (3D) printing is referred to as a new technology, it was developed more than 30 years ago. One of the first 3D printing technologies to emerge was stereolithography (SLA), invented by Chuck Hull in the 1980s, which prints thin layers of ultraviolet curable material on top of one another.
According to Hugo da Silva, VP, additive manufacturing, DSM, Hull’s SLA patent focused on printing with a light curable liquid, but he soon realized the technique wasn’t limited to only liquids. “Hull expanded the definition to any material capable of solidification or capable of altering its physical state. With this, he built the foundation of what’s known today as additive manufacturing—or 3D printing.”
Soon after SLA emerged, Hull invented the first SLA device, which allowed designers to create 3D models with digital data files. This introduced the world to accurate 3D printing prototypes of industrial products.
Traditional 3D materials include photopolymers and powdered materials. Photopolymer is an acrylic-based material that deposits in liquid until a UV laser hits the material, solidifying it. Early 3D materials were primarily used to create aesthetic prototypes in less time and cost than traditional techniques.
As the range of 3D printed applications grow, the drive for innovative materials increases alongside new materials with different properties.
“Over the last few years, we’ve seen an increased focus on developing production-grade materials for specific verticals and applications in industry sectors from automotive to healthcare to heavy industry as 3D printing gravitates from prototyping to full production of final parts and products,” says Fabio Annunziata, director of business development and 3D materials, 3D printing business, HP, Inc. He believes the industry is beginning to embrace a unified approach to materials development, which promotes a wide adoption of industrial 3D manufacturing worldwide.
3D printing materials are now required to meet real end use conditions rather than just prototype creation. “Customers desire that their 3D printing materials have the performance requirements that they expect from injection molding-type materials,” explains Joanna Marguier, 3D printing R&D senior manager, Clariant.
The use of high-quality polymers and correctly chosen colorants and additives are now required. For example, Marguier shares that colorants are selected to match the material’s end use temperature rather than availability.
Silva agrees but says there is still demand for engineering grade materials with functional performance parts. He offers, “less than five percent of materials available in other manufacturing technologies are available to the end user, and this means less than one percent of market penetration of 3D printing.”
According to Sander Strijbos, sales manager, ColorFabb, users look beyond the standard polylactic acid/PLA and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene /ABS materials and seek options that allow their prints to stand out aesthetically or in functionality. “As the market shifts from hobbyists towards businesses, there is more demand in the functionality of materials.” This results in the emergence of non-traditional 3D materials including gold, sandstone, titanium, and wood.
3D printing materials evolved from UV-curable liquids to plastic, metal, wood, and even coffee. Today, manufacturers experiment and create custom hybrid solutions. In the final installment of this series, we highlight vendors offering 3D printing materials.
Jun2018, DPS Magazine