Customized silicones for disruptive innovation in additive manufacturing
Additive manufacturing, often referred to as digital 3D printing, is a process that builds up components in layers by depositing materials in three dimensions. It is the opposite of traditional manufacturing modes as milling, turning etc. that eliminate materials from a block or an initial mold. It is therefore more efficient since it creates less waste. Its other main advantage is that additive manufacturing can create parts directly based on Computer Aided Deisgn (CAD) models and use the freedom of design without the major traditional manufacturing constraints. At first, it was used professionally to make small parts or rapid prototypes, which could then be visualized, submitted to stress tests, or fitted to other parts.
This process is now increasingly being used for creating functional parts in small or limited series production and to create replacement components for older equipment when, for example, the original manufacturer no longer supplies spare parts. Not only does additive manufacturing enable the prototyping and fabrication of new components and technology, it also widens the possibilities for the reuse and repair of older machines. It is more cost-effective, enhancing and accelerating design and engineering, while contributing to greater sustainability.
The scope of applications for additive manufacturing is constantly growing, from micro parts for the electronics industry to test models for measuring wind resistance in the automotive or aerospace sectors, via on-demand spare parts for appliances and new designs and molds for jewelry and accessories. The use of 3D printing for medical applications is also increasing, in particular for prostheses and medical implants due to the biocompatibility of silicones.
The possibilities of additive manufacturing and 3D printing are infinite, and silicones are becoming the material of choice because of their versatility and ability to reproduce designs at the very highest levels of precision. R&D teams throughout the world are looking at a wide variety of applications using silicone additive manufacturing as an enabling technology for the factory of the future (Industry 4.0) such as using soft material in conjunction with robots.
In order to support the increasing demand for new materials for additive manufacturing and 3D printing, Elkem Silicones has teams of experts working on the customization of processes to respond to customers' specific requirements. The association of proven silicone technologies (RTV-1, RTV-2, LSR, etc.) and the benefits of additive manufacturing will enable designers and engineers to develop disruptive technologies and to open new horizons for greater performance and increasingly precise applications. They are working closely with researchers in universities and various industries on the possibilities of fusing technologies and combining different chemistries to obtain unprecedented processes.
The benefits of silicone-based additive manufacturing include:
- Freedom of design
- Easier and more adaptive product customization
- Faster Time-to-Market for new concepts and parts
- Augmented functional features
- Greater environmental sustainability