As one of the world’s largest manufacturers of silanes and silicones, the development represents a breakthrough in additive manufacturing by opening up the possibility to print in a wider range of materials that possess rubber-like qualities.
Unlike thermoplastics or metals, silicone cannot be added layer by layer as powder or melted by
laser beam, therefore WACKER along with engineers at enders Ingenieure GmbH has developed a method whereby a robot rapidly deposits tiny droplets from a nozzle side by side to build up a silicone object layer by layer. These layers are then vulcanized in less than a second with UV light to crosslink the molecules into an elastomeric material. To support the technology, the team also developed it’s own custom software which it claims is unlike any other software in the field.
The result is a homogenous object which features a significantly smoother surface finish than 3D printed thermoplastics and is capable of rivalling the precision quality of injection moulding.
“Injection moulding is the established process for series production, and will remain so,” Dr. Bernd Pachaly, head of silicones research at WACKER SILICONES, explained. “But people who design prototypes or only want to make a few copies of a part can now very rapidly and flexibly modify such small series to meet changing demands. That is the unique advantage of the process.”
The technology offers many possibilities in key markets such as the medical sector for creating biocompatible, patient-specific implants even during surgery. Optical applications including lenses and fitted spectacle nose pads, orthopaedic supports, lightweight construction and households goods are also promising sectors for the material.
“We have a lot of ideas, and we want to provide our customers with much more than just silicone for additive manufacturing,” Pachaly added. “It will no longer be enough to drop off drums of chemicals in front of the factory hall.”
The goal for the German chemicals specialist is to create a system solution that will provide a sustainable machine and appropriate software to offer customers solutions for manufacturing with silicone. Developers have set themselves to task of making the technology much faster so that 100 grams of silicone can be processed in an hour.