Printing "Free- Floating" 3D Parts
A new "TwoCure" Process requires no support structures and is significantly more efficient and productive than conventional 3D printing techniques for plastic components.
Image 1. With the new “TwoCure” process printed ring-in-ring structure, manufactured without support structures and without platform contact (©Fraunhofer ILT & Rapid Shape)
Printing "Free-Floating" 3D Parts
Support Free with the “TwoCure” Process
Much like stereolithography, one of the best-known processes for printing 3D plastic components works using photolithographic light exposure that causes liquid resins to harden layer by layer. This additive process has one significant disadvantage however: it requires supports that the user must include in the design, then construct during the process, and then laboriously remove from the product.
As part of a Central Innovation Program for SMEs (ZIM) project funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT, Aachen, Germany, is collaborating with Rapid Shape GmbH in Heimsheim, Germany, to develop an efficient alternative to this process. Their new “TwoCure” process requires no support structures and is significantly more efficient and productive than conventional 3D printing techniques for plastic components.
A liquid resin is still used and is applied layer by layer to a resin reservoir. Similar to other systems built by Rapid Shape, an LED light unit illuminates the liquid resin in the component’s layered geometry. An image is projected into the resin bath and the polymer hardens in the areas that are illuminated. The resin in other areas initially remains liquid.
Image 2. Through liquefaction of a build volume support material drains off (©Fraunhofer ILT & Rapid Shape)
Image 3. “TwoCure” - process overview and spatial arrangment of objects (©Fraunhofer ILT & Rapid Shape)
"Free-Floating" Components Created in the Build Volume
Supports were used up to now because the plastic structures, which are often delicate, would otherwise collapse. However, these process-related supports require additional CAD preparation and time-consuming follow-up work which delay the production process. The process developed in cooperation between research and industry not only does without supports, it also enables components to be positioned in the entire build volume without being connected to the platform.
“Furthermore, we can create 3D components directly in the build volume, anywhere we choose,” Holger Leonards, project manager at Fraunhofer ILT, explains. “The components no longer have to be built on platform. Because the total build volume is being used more efficiently, each 3D printing job can create significantly more parts.” The scientists from Aachen and their industrial partners are making use of hybrid technology: they solidify the liquid monomer photochemically by means of light and thermally by means of cold. The material is applied warm and then irreversibly cured by light. At the same time the cooled installation space ensures that the thermoset component being created layer by layer freezes to form a block with the resin that has solidified like wax. The user can subsequently liquefy this at room temperature, so that the support material drains off: what remains are the 3D printed components that just need to be briefly cleaned and post-cured. The aim in future is for these steps to be automated in a process chain too.
Because two curing procedures are used, the development stage process is called “TwoCure”. The idea for the process was born in a joint workshop. For this new type of 3D printing, the material and photochemical process were developed by Fraunhofer ILT, whilst the procedure and systems technology were successfully realized by Rapid Shape. The first prototype has already been built and should soon be ready for series production. This new kind of polymer 3D printing was successfully tested with models for the jewelry industry. These models are used to create jewelry rings, for example.
For the further details please visit Kunststoffe International