3D silicone printing opens new opportunities for production alongside traditional techniques like injection moulding, compression moulding, and casting.
Despite the potential, silicone’s use in additive manufacturing is relatively limited because very high viscosity makes it difficult to control out of the nozzle. This introduces flow rate problems in standard 3D printers built to extrude plastic. In other words, precision fails.
To print silicone, you need a specialised liquid 3D printer like the Lynxter S600D, which has liquid printing heads equipped with volumetric dosing pumps. These provide high dispensing and dosing accuracy to control silicone flow.
3D printing and silicone – how it works
While print materials like TPU and TPE have silicone-like properties, neither perfectly matches silicone’s softness and flexibility.
3D printing’s primary problem with silicone is the viscosity of the liquid, which in liquid form would pour out of a standard nozzle like single cream.
The Lynxter S600D solves this problem using volumetric dosing pumps and pressurised syringes, which supply pumps with raw materials.
The liquid pumps feed nozzles with material, with the material superimposing on itself without collapsing on the print bed.
Essentially, this is thermosetting with an elastomeric behaviour for silicones but with a 3D printer.
One of the advantages of the Lynxter 3D printer is it can print both single-component and two-component silicones with interchangeable print heads. The dual-component tool head uses a static mixer between the pump and the nozzle. Another is that it is an open source system which means that you can print your own silicones.
It’s important to note that silicone 3D printing is relatively new, so the number of 3D printers out there is sparse at best.
Silicone 3D printing applications
Silicone is prevalent in manufacturing as a plastic and rubber replacement, with its elasticity and flexibility empowering countless applications.
3D printing provides a solution for rapid prototyping, and small series production runs to complement injection moulding and casting. It is not a replacement for these processes but a complementary technology suited to different things.
The potential applications depend on whether you print one or two-part silicone and soft or hard silicone formulations. Where silicone 3D printing really comes into its own is producing intricate geometries, forms, and shapes, especially when moulds and casts are too time-consuming and complex to produce, saving you both time and money.
Soft silicones are suited to:
- Non-marring grippers.
- Print in place soft components.
- Vibration and shock dampers.
- Springs and bushes.
- Seals, gaskets, boots, and plugs.
Hard silicones are suited to:
- Abrasion-resistant coverings.
- Snap-fit connectors and sleeves.
- Impact-rated casings.
- Vibration-isolated parts.
- Connectors and jigs and fixtures.
3D printing using materials with silicone-like properties
If you don’t have a specialised silicone 3D printer, you can produce soft, flexible, and elastic parts and models using a standard FFF or SLA printer.
For FFF, thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) mimics soft and hard silicones’ performance, look and feel. Examples include the semi-rigid, high-durometer Essentium TPU 74D and the flexible Essentium TPU 80A, which mimics soft silicone.
For SLA with Formlabs, Elastic 50A Resin is a silicone substitute with similar properties to soft silicone, while Flexible 80A Resin is slightly stiffer, like hard silicone.
Find out more
To learn more about silicone 3D printing, call us on 01765 694 007 or email email@example.com.
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Top image credit: Lynxter.