Elkem Silicones has developed a support material, AMSil 92100, for liquid silicone 3D printing, expanding its product portfolio. The $3.3 billion Norwegian manufacturer now offers support for shore hardnesses between 10 and 70 across its line, as well as food grade certified materials.
Supporting Silicone 3D Printing
Liquid silicone 3D printing, also called liquid deposit molding (LDM), relies on a mixing nozzle that mixes two components to form a silicone that is then cured. When mounted onto an extrusion-based 3D printer, it can really democratize the 3D printing of silicones. Unlike the polyurethane items that have so far dominated the flexible 3D printing segment, LDM parts are made from actual silicone and can, therefore, be used for a smorgasbord of applications ideal for the material.
One of the issues with LDM so far has been the limited geometric freedom possible. You can make anything as long as that shape can also work in whipped cream. However, Elkem is here to change all of that. The paste-like AMSil 92100 support material can be extruded on the same system as silicone and is optimized for Elkem’s AMSil and AMSil Silbione. Because the support is water soluble, it can be washed off after printing.
At Formnext, the company will showcase multiple silicones being printed in the same part using a Deltatower 3D printer. In a presentation, titled “UV-curable silicone elastomeric materials designed for 3D printing technologies (SLA, DLP, LCD) and medical applications,” the Elkem team will provide attendees with background on medical devices made with 3D printed silicone, a potentially very exciting area.
The Silicone 3D Printing Market
Silicone is tough but soft, making it ideal for a variety of applications. The material is widely used in medical devices, hearing aids, valves, seals, implants, prosthetics and more. If you want to make a watchband or a brace, then silicone has the right properties for you. For the interface between the body and a piece of hardware, from a prosthetic leg to a heart monitor or activity tracker, silicone is great. The material also offers great properties for insoles, midsoles and shoes in general.
So far, silicone has been elusive however and difficult to make. Famously Wacker Chemie left the market after trying to develop it for a number of years. Whereas Wacker was going it alone by offering its own technology and material through its own service, Elkem is taking a more open approach. Now, firms such as Lynxter, Arburg, and Deltatower offer printers that can print silicones.
Will the timing be right this time along? And will the more open approach be more fruitful? I hope so. Silicone will be a valuable addition to the 3D printing arsenal. Flexible and skin or food contact approved materials have been hard for us to make. And most of the flexible materials that you do see are not durable.
Silicone excels at catering to high-end value propositions, such as the emerging market for wearables and prosthetics. These markets have a great overlap with 3D printing. Additive manufacturing is good for timely, custom geometries and silicone is good at making them wearable. That is potentially a match made in heaven.