3D Printers have taken quite a flight and if you are a bit paying attention you have noticed that 3d printers have become mainstream, evolving on the market from heavy expensive machines, consumer products to gadget-like products for as little as two hundred dollars upwards with printing quality good enough for home printing.
During my professional career I have worked with several B2B print-services, was responsible for a Stratasys Dimension FDM-printer, several Makerbots and numerous FormLabs resin-printers.
This article however is not about how 'cool' 3d-printers are but rather the opposite. I hope to show you what has been tried by me and my colleagues and what you can expect when using rapid prototyping techniques for professional production.
When I arrived here in Hong Kong I met an old colleague. At that time, three years ago now, he was making customized soles for the orthopedic market. A clear need as people with foot/walking problems need customization from the standard shoes.
A few years on he decided to start a new business
, selling 3d printed shoes using flexible rubber like materials. He uses a regular 3d printer and found specialized rubber-like filament with tensile strength and elasticity needed to print shoes.
The shoe-industry shows a lot of interest in 3d printed shoes, opening up new possibilities standard manufacturing cannot provide and avoiding high mold costs (each size shoe requires a new mold for the sole so this cost adds up considerably). Downsides of 3d printing however are still prevalent: the time it takes to print one shoe, layer visibility, limited materials and the overall strength of the product itself.
One of my clients was investigating using High Temperature resin prints (FormLabs provides this material for their resin-printers) for making inserts to use during injection molding. This would make the entire mold magnitudes cheaper as only a small part needs to be swapped out of the mold itself and not the entire mold-part.
We decided to print in 100% full HT-resin, which is recommended for molds and inserts. The prints failed many times however. The biggest problem we encountered during this process was the newly cured resin-layer refusing to come off the resin tray. As the printer is not aware of this and keeps on operating it hits to hardened resin block during every print cycle.
After many trials we reoriented the print and finally managed to print an insert for the mold and used it several times during injection molding.
If you want to know more I recommend you to read this article
from formlabs which shows step by step how to use their HT-resin.
is a company specialized in implants for patients. They have patented their technology enabling them to print in a special alloy needed for medical implants.