LFAM printing Elastomers, TPE

14 Jun, 2022

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LFAM printing Elastomers, TPE

90 Shore A TPE-based elastomer for large 3D-printed rubber-like parts.

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LFAM Extending Onto New Materials

Large Format Additive Manufacturing (LFAM) has been consolidating its role in the market for the manufacturing of large-scale, advanced, parts manufactured with thermoplastics and composites over the past few years. Today we see many brands working to extend their capabilities on a broader range of materials, mimicking the development of the more traditional 3D printing solutions. 

While there are several similarities in how LFAM and 3D printing systems work, material feedstock and sources differ a lot. In Caracol's robotized LFAM system, the material reaches the extruder through an automatized direct printing process for polymeric and composite pellets, granules, and shreds. This allows transferring materials from insulated and dehumidifier environments and controlling their chemical-physical properties. 

Nevertheless, given the fact that parts manufactured with LFAM systems are generally several meters long, the materials that have the most fitting properties - i.e., avoiding material warpage are often carbon or glass fiber-reinforced thermoplastics. 

Thermoplastic Elastomers are Going Big

With traditional AM technologies, Thermoplastic Elastomers (TPE) materials such as TPU, have been a great way to 3D print flexible parts - these materials are flexible at room temperature but maintain the dimensional stability of the parts, and they can be heated and extruded just as other thermoplastics. While TPE materials have been found to be easy to process on small scale 3D printers, on LFAM, ensuring stability and layer adherence on several-meter-long parts is another story.

Lately, we've begun working to explore the potential of TPE materials applied to LFAM. In particular, testing and manufacturing parts with 90 Shore A TPE-based high-strength and flexibility elastomer to print large rubber-like parts that are pliable and resistant. 

The reason why this material has great potential on LFAM is that it's ideal for additive manufacturing of large-scale topologically optimized flexible structures, such as for Automotive and Aerospace vehicle interiors and seating applications, as well as for custom furniture design applications for cushions.