Give a Little: Flexibility in 3D Printing

2017-05-31

Aya Bentur  

Agilus30 - Stratasys - 3D Printing Flexible Material

Additive Manufacturing (AM) is flexible by nature. Looking not at what has been done but what would be the optimal part, can yield surprising results. Parts which have been designed for traditional manufacturing can be adapted to be produced with 3D printing, but the advantages of Additive Manufacturing lies in designing with the technology and its capabilities in mind – taking advantage of all the flexibility AM can offer. Here are a few examples of flexibility in 3D printing, from systems to materials.

Industrial Flexibility

Additive manufacturing allows for a more flexible business model. Not being obligated to produce large amounts as in traditional manufacturing opens up an array of solutions that allow a company and its production a more flexible infrastructure. Manufacturing on demand according to the customer needs or according to localized requirements enables a company to cater to individuals and larger markets without overloading the system. From production to distribution, AM is not solely about the technical method of production, it’s a system that can enable quick reactions, adaptations, and constant innovation. SAP showed that clearly at the Sapphire event a couple of weeks ago.

Mike Lackey SAP Sapphire
Mike Lackey Global Vice President of Solution Management, LoB Manufacturing, at Sapphire, talking about SAP Distributed Manufacturing
Flexing Properties

Filaflex 3D Printing Flexible Material

In the realm of the material itself, there is constant innovation. Recently Stratasys unveiled the Agilus-30, a durable rubber-like material able to withstand repeated flexing without tearing or deforming (up top). Filaflex by Recreus (above) is an FDM filament, a TPE thermoplastic elastomer base polyurethane able to stretch up to 700% before breaking. Carbon has also developed flexible materials which are compatible with their CLIP technology. FPU is an impact resistant material, designed to withstand repetitive stresses and EPU is a flexible, tear resistant material.

Fab Forms from Ori Porat on Vimeo.

Designing for Parts and Particles

The ability to achieve a flexible object lies also in the 3D printed structure. AM allows for flexibility in 3D printing complex parts and limitless geometries, constructing textile-like structures such as the 3D printed clothing collection by Danit Peleg. Peleg uses Filaflex (mentioned above) as well as patterned structures, forming lace-like textiles.

Amy Purdy with Kuka Robot Wearing a 3D Printed Dress by Danit Peleg at the Paralympics 2017
Amy Purdy with Kuka Robot Wearing a 3D Printed Dress by Danit Peleg at the Paralympics 2017

Adidas is another example of designing for flexibility. The Future Craft 4D by Adidas uses Carbon’s Digital Light Synthesis additive manufacturing process to produce a flexible lattice-shaped midsole. Carbon employees were spotted wearing them at the Hannover Messe in April.

Reebok is also developing methods of utilizing AM in manufacturing a flexible running shoe, innovating in materials and in how we think about soles and their design.

Anatomical Flexibility

In the medical field, AM provides the possibility to customize implants and surgical tools, creating an individual fit for each patient, using flexible materials bring these implants even closer to the human biological system. Researchers in the University of Florida developed a process for 3D printing in soft silicone. The process can be used to manufacture items that are commonly used such as ports for draining bodily fluids, implantable bands, balloons, soft catheters, slings, and meshes. “The reality is that we are probably decades away from the widespread implanting of 3D printed tissues and organs into patients, by contrast, inanimate medical devices are already in widespread use for implantation. Unlike the long wait we have ahead of us for other 3D bioprinting technologies to be developed, silicone devices can be put into widespread use without technologically limited delay.” said team member Tommy Angelini, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace.

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