There are currently two main uses for 3D printing: prototyping and production. The majority of additive manufacturing companies focus only on meeting prototyping needs because the material demands for strong physical properties are less rigorous. 3D Systems excels at both prototyping and production needs because they have put the time and effort into making sure each material delivers the quality expected from each part. In many instances, choosing production-grade materials is more cost efficient than only serving prototyping needs because the parts last longer without failing and that durability over time saves money and effort:
- Smaller companies can now offer true manufacturing solutions at a lower cost of entry
- True production-grade materials allow customization of parts without having to purchase tooling, saving money and time
- Customers can choose: as 3D Systems optimizes each material for the printer, the parts can be used for either prototyping or production. Consistent part quality and surface finish require minimal post-processing – no more dyeing or washing parts
- Customers no longer need to switch materials based on if the application is for prototyping or production
Each application has a material that is best suited for it. End use interior parts need to have flexibility, durability and impact resistance while assembly jigs and fixtures need strength and rigidity. Engineers at 3D Systems strive to offer materials that can cover all additive manufacturing needs. Their R&D team is continually developing new materials and additives for existing materials based on production and prototyping needs. They work hand-in-hand with manufacturing industry leaders to understand their applications and then work to deliver printing solutions ideal for those applications. Through these key customers they are learning what problems customers encounter that traditional manufacturing methods have been unable to solve, and they are setting out to provide additive manufacturing solutions. Printing complex geometries with a variety of materials is the core of 3D printing, and it is the backbone of how 3D Systems develops partnerships and how it continues to innovate for the future.
So, what materials have 3D Systems come up with, and what applications do they have?
Market insight indicated that there was a need for aluminum-filled plastic parts that have a low weight, but still maintain metallic properties for applications such as knobs, handles, certain automotive parts and consumer electronics. Combining flexibility with durability, DuraForm ProX AF+ was developed with this market need in mind and underwent rigorous testing. 3D Systems wants to ensure that each material is optimized for each printer to produce parts with consistent mechanical properties and surface quality. For DuraForm ProX AF+, they ran thousands of sample parts to dial into the proper print settings, then embedded these settings in a configuration file that the printer uses when DuraForm ProX AF+ is loaded in the machine. This guarantees that the wide range of applications and geometries printed meet the rigorous quality standards needed for production-grade additive manufacturing.
In addition to aluminum-filled plastic, customers (especially from the automotive industry) requested a true black-colored production-grade material that produces parts ready to go with minimal post-processing. In other words: without any coating requirements. DuraForm ProX EX Black is a nylon 11 material that has a much better elongation and impact resistance than nylon 12. The drawback is that nylon 11 is more difficult to run consistently for most printers. This is another example where 3D Systems has taken the time to optimize settings, to fully test the material and to validate the mechanical properties so that when DuraForm ProX EX Black is running on a 3D Systems printer, it is delivering production-grade parts with the strength and durability needed to meet the demands of end users. DuraForm ProX EX Black, when used for automotive interior parts or consumer goods parts, has to be able to withstand continuous impact and exposure to the elements without failing, and it does.