Innovative New Printing Material
Over the last few years, advancements in 3D printing have been consistent and, therefore, allowed for more complex creations. Not only have these creations been increasing in complexity, but they have become more applicable to different industries. From 3D printing organs for patients in hospitals, to rocket engine injectors for NASA, 3D printers continuously prove to be a useful tool for countless business fields.
The work done by Local Motors, a Phoenix-based company, impressively exemplifies how 3D printing can serve as an advantageous tool for the automobile industry as well. In 2014, Local Motors was able to 3D print a Strati car live during the International Manufacturing Technology Show. From that point on, the company made their 3D printed cars using ABS/carbon fiber composite. According to the tests done by Local Motors, this material is able to endure intense stress which makes it a suitable material for their cars.
As time passed, Local Motors began to look for new ways to improve the quality of their 3D printed cars. The first materials the company began to test in order to achieve this were both products of Fenner Drives, Inc.: NinjaFlex and SemiFlex.
NinjaFlex is a 3D printer filament used to create strong, highly flexible prints. This 3D printer filament is a specially formulated thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) and is most suitable for 3D printers with direct-drive extruders. NinjaFlex serves as a beneficial material to use due to its consistent diameter and material properties that provide reliable high quality prints. When printed with a honeycomb infill structure, NinjaFlex obtains a cushion like feel. Its low friction exterior make it possible for smooth feeding through filament guides. Additionally, this printer filament features high elasticity, superb abrasion resistance, and a filament hardness of about 85A.
SemiFlex, an addition to the NinjaFlex family, is similar to NinjaFlex in that it boosts flexibility, strength, and reliability of 3D printed projects. To expand printing possibilities, SemiFlex material is faintly more rigid than NinjaFlex. This type of printer filament is great to use for projects that require a high level of detail, like high resolution text, and projects that require shock absorption. SemiFlex material is made with a filament hardness of about 98A.
The qualities of these two materials make them a perfect replacement for the much more rigid ABS composite material in Local Motor’s 3D printed cars. Both NinjaFlex and SemiFlex can be used in the crash structure of the car. For example the material implemented in the car bumper would minimize a slow impact of the vehicle. The applications of flexible prints made possible with NinjaFlex and SemiFlex are not limited to just automobiles. From 3D printing a replica of an infant heart that was used by heart surgeons to practice surgery, to a wearable dress that managed to flow like fabric, the possible applications with this material are endless and limited only by imagination.