For a long time, silicone hasn’t been utilized in 3D printing.
Unlike metal-containing compounds and thermoplastic resins, silicone is hard to heat and reach the required melting point, which initially made it inappropriate for this production technology.
The situation changed completely in 2016, when Wacker Chemie, a recognized world leader in the chemical industry, introduced the first silicone 3D printer.
This growth has opened up great opportunities in many areas, especially in medicine and healthcare, where silicone has long been used due to its biocompatibility, mold release, and tear resistance.
Today, silicone, along with metals, ceramics, and thermoplastics, is among the materials for 3D printing without any leaks and/or air bubbles like before.
Given the comparative cost of casting silicone injection molding, especially in the manufacture of specific parts or piece production, silicone 3D printing has an exciting future.
Using silicone two-part molds for bulk production has been there for ages, however, there’s more to learn about this method.
Molds let you produce the same parts like supplies, boxes, rubber bands, popsicle sticks, etc, over and over again, but getting the product quality ideal every time might be challenging.
Is Silicone additive manufacturing technology the solution? Let’s now find out why you should start using a Silicone 3D printer and Additive Manufacturing to build your mold star.
What Is Silicone And Why You Should Consider Using Them?
Silicone is the name of a group of polymers made up of chains of alternating silicon and oxygen atoms.
Organic groups are attached to silicon atoms, resulting in materials with special properties – resistant to chemical attack and different temperature conditions.
Due to these properties, silicone is often used for the production of medical objects, which must be resistant to various fluctuations in environmental conditions.
Traditionally, silicone is used in the production of thermoplastic injection molding technology. In this case, a hollow blank space is made in the form of the desired object, into which you need to pour slowly the polymer melt to cast your product shape.
The poured liquid polymer is held in the preform under pressure until it cools completely. Next, the casting silicone blank is opened and the finished product is removed from its blank space.
Silicone is excellent for injection molding due to its unique physical properties and it offers multiple copies-making opportunities.
However, unlike additive 3D printing, injection modeling of objects has a high cost and does not allow you to create fine details. But in 2016, chemical company Wacker Chemie announced that it had found an effective way to 3D print with silicone.
Shortly thereafter, Envisiontec, Carbon 3D, and Fripp Design also introduced equipment and materials to the market specifically designed to work with silicone on 3D printers.
Present Silicone 3D Printing Technology
3D printing with silicone is similar to printing with plastic or other materials that must remain liquid during the printing process.
Instead of the hard, filamentous filament (fiber) usually fed through an extruder, the silicone is pre-melted and forced through the extruder in small droplets that are stacked on top of each other. So, here check out the measure for Silicone 3D printing.
Drop-On-Demand (or ACEO)
ACEO is the name of the brand given by Wacker Chemie for its in-house dropjet resolution of 3D printing with silicone.
The Aceo technology 3D prints with silicone by planting 1 voxel of silicone material (silicone and UV triggering binder) simultaneously.
After every single layer, the UV light source triggers the binder as well as then the following layer is produced.
Support designs are printed with some water-soluble materials to be liquefied later in the post-processing of the surface. This helps produce smooth cured creation.
Adjusted Resin-Based 3D Printing (Carbon, Spectroplast, Envisiontec, Henkler)
The adjusted resin-based 3D printing process for silicones is utilized by multiple organizations.
Almost all such techniques combine liquid silicone along with a photosensitive resin base structure. The methods typically involve the subsequent step in detail:
• Design the item for 3D printing in a custom software customized for the silicone 3D printers by the manufacturers;
• Load the file up on your 3D printer;
• Then fill the mixture using the proprietary silicone resin;
• Now let the printer do its things on its own;
• And then do the post-processing (normally in some sort of oven) to achieve smooth silicone parts.
Spectroplast just offers its technology as on-demand services. While Envisiontec and Carbon are targeting use for their high-end high-cost machines in the Industry.
Henkler lately entered this 3D printing world by way of the resin line consistent with both Envisiontec and Carbon 3D printers for industrial use.
Liquid Additive Manufacturing (in Short LAM)
LAM or Liquid Additive Manufacturing is a process similar to FDM or Fused Deposition Modeling 3D printing, however, with some changes to make it appropriate for liquid silicone use.
Liquid Additive Manufacturing can be considered a curing-based Fused Deposition Modeling function.
• In that, LSR (liquid silicone rubber) is extruded onto the build plate
• Then the extruded layer gets heated up with a halogen lamp to help molecular cross-linking.
• Hence, converting that liquid silicone to a solid form.
LAM is created by German RepRap with the Company named Dow Chemical. German RepRap presents a LAM-based 3D printer under the brand innovatiQ.
Is 3D Print Silicone Molds/Mold Box Even Possible?
3D-printed silicone is certainly a fact now. However, to say that it’s either effortless to print, or readily accessible for 3D printing lovers would merely be inaccurate. There’re some high-end 3D printing techniques adapted especially to silicone 3D printing.
However, none are easily available for customer 3D printers. Rather, almost all of the participants in the 3D printed silicone world have chosen to deliver either on-demand service for 3D printed silicone or significantly inhibitive and costly 3D printers on some contractual bases.
How To 3D Print Silicone Molds Using Liquid Silicone?
Many enterprises have changed extruders available in the market for printing. Here, rather than a filament made of other materials like plastics, metals, etc. being extruded, it is a paste.
Nevertheless, the most straightforward method to 3D print silicone is via the usage of molds.
• Preferably, you’ve got the liberty to pick from any material for 3D printing to make your molds. Both ABS and PLA work nicely.
• Let’s now use the instance that you wish to make a phone case using silicone. First, while designing the molds in CAD software, you’d include a cube. After that cut away the desired design from the cube.
• Now we’ve got the hollow of the case. After that, cut that said cube in half. This will help you to print in 2 separate parts.
• Put the first half and second half together to create a bind at the top, as well as there you’ve got it – your silicone 3D printed molds!
• Then, you will require a mold release agent
• So, pour your two-part silicone which will turn solid after a specific time.
• Wait until the material sets before peeling the mold apart and revealing your completed product.
Application of 3D Printing Silicone
The areas of application of silicone stem from the diverse properties of the material:
Resistance to aggressive environments and the absence of toxic effects on body tissues, that is, the biological compatibility of silicone, have found application in various branches of medicine, especially as a raw material for the manufacture of individual implants.
Other uses include the production of skin-contact products: respiratory masks, hearing aids, spectacle nose pads, ear pads, wristbands, and many other permanent wear devices.
Resistance to extreme temperatures and solar radiation makes silicone suitable for the automotive industry, as well as for the production of items intended for outdoor use. Example: plugs and hoses.
The elasticity of silicone allows it to be used in areas where high flexibility and resilience are required, for example, in the production of insoles for running shoes.
The transparency makes silicone useful in optical equipment. They make contact lenses out of it.
The unique waterproofing properties make silicone an ideal material for sealing joints in the automotive industry, as well as for the manufacture of seals in hydraulic systems.
What To Look For When Buying Silicone 3D Printing Equipment?
If you choose a silicone 3D printer, then choose a device that has the following characteristics:
An extruder system with a regular feeder will not work with silicone, so check how your chosen printer performs with different materials before you buy.
Internal Heater & Pump
Because 3D printing uses liquid silicone, look for a machine whose extruder uses both a heater and a pump. This will ensure that the silicone has the correct and even consistency and will also prevent clumps or material from getting stuck as it passes through the nozzle.
Short Straight Lines
The heated silicone should enter the extruder as quickly as possible. Reducing the distance and number of turns on the way to the nozzle will allow the silicone to flow evenly and without external assistance.
The closed printable area is a mandatory attribute of a 3D printer for working with silicone since the vulcanization process is implied.
The glass chamber contains an ultraviolet emitter, the ultraviolet in such machines is responsible for vulcanization, so this is an important feature if you are going to use a 3D printer for silicone printing.
To work with silicone, it is desirable to have a dosing system such as ViscoTec or similar. The systems are based on the “endless piston” principle, transporting and dosing the material is carried out almost without pulsations and with a minimum shear force. These requirements are valid when it comes to inkjet printing with liquid silicone.
Benefits Of 3D Printing With Silicone And Is There Any Future?
Silicones are abundantly used almost in all manufacturing industries here in some form or way. Generally, silicones are used in machinery as adhesives, sealants, grease, and lubricants; in prosthetics, biomedical implants, and robotics.
Also a rising number of customer goods like phone cases, textiles, kitchenware, etc. Intrinsically then, the possibilities of 3D printed silicone influence so many enterprises.
• Using silicone 3D printing we can develop admiringly engineered seals that reduce material usage while increasing airtightness.
• We can also see artificial organs and biomedical implants custom-designed to the micron to serve the requirements of a patient.
• Consumer products that can be customized 3D printed; fashion accessories and clothing that can be made to size in no time; flexible, soft robots that can do everything from creating the morning coffee to helping the old people in their daily lives.
The effect of silicones illustrated a truly remarkable achievement in the artificial materials world. Add the charm of 3D printing as well as it’d certainly not be a modest statement to call it just “revolutionary”.
The future of silicone 3D printing has been promising in a long term. 3D-printed silicone, when still in its initial stage, vows to make that tomorrow even more promising.
Cost of 3D Printing With Silicone
The precise expenses are hard to establish since 3D printable silicone isn’t easily available at the customer level.
The proprietary product like Aceo by Wacker Chemie, Spectroplast with ETH Zurich, and 3D Alchemy founded in the United Kingdom are all presented as 3D printing on-demand services with ca ustom quotation.
Alternatively, in case we’re to look at proficient 3D printers obtainable for 3D printing with silicone, then only the 3D printers can cost around $25,000/year for Carbon’s silicone-polyurethane resin that is capable of Digital Light Synthesis (in short DLS) 3D printers.
LAM or Liquid Additive Manufacturing 3D printers produced by German Reprap in association with Dow chemical enterprise also run around $50,000 to $100,000.
Sufficient to state, 3D printed silicone at present is costly and typically only suitable for pro-grade usage or engineering.
The on-demand service is certain to 3D print your design or also good old 3D Benchy in silicone. However, expect a bill way higher than your normal Polylactic Acid or PLA print.
FAQ 3D Printing Silicone Mold
Here are some of the common questions on silicone mold 3D printing
Can silicone molds be 3D printed?
YES, of course, silicone molds can be 3D printed. You can 3D print your desired silicone molds using your 3D printer.
Can you 3D print resin molds?
YES, just like silicone. A 3D printer can print resin molds for your unique creation.
Silicone 3D printing is still an evolving technology and it still has a long way to go. However, due to properties such as resistance to radiation and aggressive chemical environments, wear resistance, elasticity, thermal insulation, and biocompatibility, silicone is one of the most promising materials in additive manufacturing, which can be used to print many irreplaceable things.
As you now can see individuals all around are using 3D printed molds already, it is surely the future. From professional jewelry designers to pastry chefs and also metal crafters- individuals from numerous industries getting benefit from 3D printed silicon molds already.
Using the Additive Manufacturing technology to make your 3D printed molds will reduce your production costs, speed up the process of manufacturing and give you new design freedom.
Start utilizing 3D printed molds now! It’s as easy as uploading a 3D model to a 3D printing service as well as getting your silicone parts produced at your home.
If you are uncertain about the procedure, do not hesitate to contact us, we are here to answer any of your questions.