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Is it possible to produce a rubber rapid prototype directly through 3D printing? No. Even with the enormous advancement of 3D printing of today, limitations in practice still exist. The 3D printing industry and rapid prototype factories are still struggling with the possibility of directly 3D printed rubber prototypes.
Why is not possible to 3D print rubber prototypes? Rubber is a kind of organic material. The external factors can not affect its properties. Actually, to improve the strength and elasticity, rubber usually undergoes vulcanization. The vulcanization makes rubber solid and holds its shape, which means that it can never go back to a fluid state. Therefore, rubber cannot be 3D printed.
However, with the increasing demand for making prototypes of rubber parts in many industries, plastic prototype makers now use rubber-like materials to 3D printed rubber parts. This article is to explore why rubber-like materials can be excellent alternative for those who need to create rubber prototypes as well as what rubber-like materials are suitable for 3D printing.
The Rubber-Like Materials Used For Making Rubber Rapid Prototype
1. Flexible Filaments
One of the most common materials used by plastic prototype makers to make rubber rapid prototype is filaments that are made of thermoplastic elastomer (TPE). This kind of material is commonly found in several applications, such as shoe soles, flip-flop, as well as sealing rings.
Previously, it was difficult to print flexible filaments as they are too soft to form shapes. In most extruders, when the filaments that are too soft due to no rigidity were push toward the nozzle, they always twisted or bent. But today, with the introduction of direct drive extruders, it is possible to 3D print objects with flexible filaments. One thing should be noticed is that the formulas of flexible filaments can vary from plastic prototype makers. Therefore, consult your prototype manufacturing partner beforehand is necessary.
2. Flexible Resins
In addition to flexible fibers, another widely used rubber-like material to make rubber rapid prototype is flexible resin. If you want to prototype highly accurate flexible components such as gaskets, custom grips, stamps, and wearable devices, or want to add some ergonomic features to your assembly, flexible resin is an ideal material.
The flexible resin feels much the same as the resin. When compressed, it usually can bound back to its initial form. However, printing resin usually requires specific printers, which is the main limitation of this material.
How To 3D Print A Rubber Rapid Prototype With Flexible Filament
To get a high quality 3D rubber rapid prototype, you should keep these tips in mind first instead of rushing to printing:
1. Prepare for cleanup - The flexible filaments much print with little or no retraction, thus the finished print can be very sticky. Therefore, it is necessary to edit your model to easily clean up where needed.
2. Foreseeing stretching - If you are to 3D print an object that requires a tight fit, such as a phone case. The model should be slightly smaller than needed as the model can stretch out over time. About 2-3mm smaller is enough. For more specific figure, it depends on the elasticity of the filament you use.
3. Choose a filament - Different plastic prototype makers may use different filaments. There are many brands of filaments on the markets, varying from elasticity and price.
Using 3D printer to print a rubber prototype with flexible filament is difficult, and the more elastic the filament is, the more difficult it is to print. Here are some tips & tricks to ease the difficulty.
1. Print slowly - It usually takes much longer time to print a rubber rapid prototype that print an ordinary hard object as filaments does not perform well under high-speed operation. Thus printing it slowly could be better. For most flexible filaments, 20-40 mm/s is a good start.
2. Get the right temperature - Printing flexible filament in the temperature that is neither too hot nor too cold is also critical to get high-quality rubber prints. You should start printing within the recommended temperature and then go up or down until you get the desired print quality. If the finished print separates easily between layers, it may mean that the temperature is too low. If the printed rubber rapid prototype has lots of spots on the edges or is too stringy, then the temperature is too hot.
3. Make sure the print head is within the model - The print head should not travel over open air but inside the model walls. It ensures the oozing from the flexible filament to stay within the model.
4. Reduce or turn off retraction on the printer - Retraction on the printer usually bends the filament and cause jams when the flexible filament is used. You should turn it off or reduce it.
Hire Professional Plastic Prototype Makers
It should be rather challenging to print a nice, high-quality rubber rapid prototype with flexible filament or other rubber-like material by yourself. Things are made much easier when you hire professional and experienced plastic prototype makers like Tuowei who has high-end 3D printers, quality filaments, and professional staff with abundant experience in 3D printing. And you can also get truly high quality rubber prototypes at a more competitive price.