Over a few short decades, 3D printing has evolved from a feat of science fiction to a very real and ubiquitous aspect of daily life. Whether you realise it or not, 3D printing is a part of life-saving surgeries, energy-saving transportation and the timesaving manufacturing of products large and small. Like the computer technology that came before it, 3D printers have evolved from gargantuan machines to reasonably sized appliances that can fit unobtrusively in a college dorm room. Though large-scale 3D printers remain for large-scale tasks, smaller machines are becoming increasingly more capable through advancements in speed and expanded materials portfolios. The CubePro desktop 3D printer is one such machine that recently doubled its materials capabilities with the addition of Nylon 6 and a water-soluble support material, Infinity Rinse-Away.
Though Nylon is a familiar household name, its introduction to CubePro desktop 3D printing is nothing short of revolutionary. Now, desktop engineers and small office entrepreneurs can print for concept, function and end-use with the durability, versatility and reliability of Nylon. For inventors and entrepreneurs like Luke Schantz, Technologist at SoftLayer, Nylon carries us one step closer to a world where we are a click away from bringing any part, product, accessory or invention into being. Luke is in the process of custom-building a visual effects robot, and though many common 3D printing materials are suitable for fit testing, Luke has found the CubePro and Nylon product-material combination to provide “unmatched performance.” In building his robot, Luke has gladly used materials like ABS to verify concepts, but because final parts will be subjected to on-going use, Luke needed a material of endurance. “The real work needs to be done in NYLON,” Luke says.
In spite of Nylon’s unique material properties, some may argue it is in fact Nylon’s compatibility with Infinity Rinse-Away that really raises the stakes for desktop 3D printing. For those unfamiliar, the magic of Infinity Rinse-Away is its graceful disappearing act in the grand finale. This water-soluble material breaks down in water, washing away to reveal smooth surfaces with intricate detail. Combined with Nylon’s rugged capabilities, this blank check of complexity enables designs and turnaround testing like we’ve never before seen.
To get a better understanding of what this means, 3D Systems’ Principle Engineer Marty Johnson explains, “With Infinity Rinse-Away, we can now print difficult geometries better, such as overhangs in hard to reach areas, tubular parts, and figurine type parts. Not only that, but we can print better bottom surfaces too.” The complexity, intricacy and functionality this brings to desktop 3D printing translates to end-use 3D printing with minimal finishing and maximum function. Marty, who has spent the past eight years at 3D Systems developing and integrating printers with materials, says that a key focus for him and his team of engineers is streamlining operator use while enhancing operation outcome. “The focus is to allow the user to print and enjoy the creation they printed,” he says.
According to Founder and Lead Designer of 3D Brooklyn, Will Haude, this goal has been achieved with flying colours. Will uses 3D Systems’ Infinity Rinse-Away support material to achieve intricate designs with moveable, functional parts. “Infinity Rinse Away has changed the way I think about designing from the very start,” he says. “Before, I had to design around my idea, rather than bring it to life directly. Because Infinity is water soluble, I don’t have to worry about that limitation and can make more freely.” Now, Will revels in the ability to print parts with interlocking knobs and moving parts that bind together with Infinity and are freed and functional once cleaned.
Infinity Rinse-Away has also made a splash at Medtronic, PLC. As the world’s largest standalone medical technology development company, Medtronic is equipped with an abundantly capable team of scientists, clinicians, and engineers, as well as a robust fleet of the most sophisticated, cutting-edge technologies. Alongside larger 3D printers and traditional tooling machines, Medtronic has several CubePro 3D printers, which have added the cherished elements of availability and low cost to Medtronic’s design process.
William Harding, Medtronic Distinguished Technical Fellow, says the release of Infinity was received “like a Christmas present,” and the introduction of this capability bodes an upgrade from Medtronic’s CubePro Duos to CubePro Trios. For William and his team of biomedical engineers, “the time saved on cleaning prints is a godsend,” not to mention the incredible potential now offered by combining Infinity with Nylon. Though many of the products Medtronic develops are protected as IP, William says the properties of Nylon make it a tremendous advantage to his team and their mission.
The strength of Nylon, and its robustness relative to other desktop 3D printing materials, makes it capable of withstanding greater stress for more informative testing. Visualise the daily life of a wearable or implantable medical device: the environment it will be exposed to will not be gentle and the consequence of failure may put new designs in jeopardy. For this reason, and gratefully so, testing is rigorous and thorough.
Nylon has proved itself to Medtronic, and is now a trusted reliable material William and his team can turn to when they need concept solutions that will last through multiple handoffs for testing and exposure to rough elements. The value of trustworthy forecasts can save lives, and the more trustworthy the better. William also notes that Nylon responds well to radio frequencies (RF) in a similar manner as human features, which gives Medtronic an even more accurate read on the best path of development for technologies that are saving and improving the quality of lives.
Many of William’s engineers are trained in design thinking, and the fact that 3D printing enables products to be designed for function rather than for fabrication is of fantastic significance. If designers and engineers, the people who shape the world around us, are no longer limited to the verdicts of their tools and can instead put their ingenuity into overdrive, the world is in for a wild ride. And if they can do this from their desktop, design evolution will come rapidly.