When 3D printing first became available several years ago, it appeared that the technology would mainly produce plastic products that included bio-based resins. While plastic is still the undisputed leader in the 3D industry with a projected spend of $1.4 billion dollars this year, manufacturers are using new types of materials all the time. Below are some of the most popular non-plastic materials available to use in 3D printing.
DMLS, an acronym for direct metal laser sintering, is the process used for three-dimensional printing of this material. Metal differs from plastic in that it’s possible to create either a prototype or an industrial product that is ready to go to market. Some of the early adopters of using 3D-printed metal include the airline industry to create replacement parts for immediate use and the jewelry industry for mass-market production of a single piece.
Footwear and Other Products from Jabil
Jabil, a Florida-based company, has used a 3D printer to create footwear for several years. The company spends billions of dollars annually to print prototypes for the insoles of various styles of shoes. The company designs, manufactures, and distributes millions of prototypes for shoes to companies all over the world. Additionally, it uses 3D printers to create jigs and tools for personal and commercial use.
Consumers may not be familiar with the name Jabil, but most people in the United States have used at least one of its high-tech products. Recently the company announced the formation of Jabil Engineered Materials that will enable the use of 3D applications when creating manufacturing applications.
Currently, Brown University researchers are experimenting with 3D printing to create a substance known as hydrogel that will become softer and stiffer in response to varying types of chemical treatments. The researchers are using graphene oxide to make alginate, a material naturally found in seaweed, to accomplish this.
Although the team predicts dozens of uses for hydrogel, its members are currently focusing on the possibility of applying it as an antifouling coating. This is due to its natural ability to reject oils.
The strength and flexibility of nylon provides a wide range of potential uses as a 3D printed material. It has the strongest bonding layer of all FDM filaments, which makes it a good choice for products that require mechanical strength. Nylon prints are easy to mold into the desired shape because of the ability to smoother its rough surface after printing.
One thing to be mindful of is that nylon can start to degrade when exposed to humidity. Designers and manufacturers can get past this issue by storing nylon in containers or bags with an airtight seal. The most common current uses for 3D printed nylon include visual arts, concept models, medical applications, functional modeling, and tooling.
The materials described above represent just a small portion of what is currently available to designers and manufactures. Consumers will soon purchase products containing other well-known materials such as wood, copper, paper, wax, nickel, or aluminum in products that first came to life on a 3D printer.
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