The 3D Printing technology has evolved immensely since its early days. The technology has not only developed in terms of the machine but also in terms of the materials used to manufacture products. This development has augmented the technology greatly. Today, the materials used in 3D printing are rapidly growing and the material manufactures are developing new types of materials that cater to different industrial requirements.
Early research led to the development of a range of conventional materials like polymers, metals and composites, but while more and more conventional materials are being developed, the list of unconventional materials is also growing rapidly. We now see materials like concrete, bioinks, and even food as a material for 3D printing.
We will take a look at the some of these materials used in 3D Printing
Polymer 3D Printing Materials
ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) is one of the most popular materials used in 3D printing. The reason for its wide use is due to its easy availability, strength properties, widely used in industries and is available at affordable prices.
PLA (PolyLactic Acid) is another widely used material. The main advantage is that it is bio-degradable. It is also available in wide range of colours and even in transparent form.
Apart from FDM 3D printing technology, polymers are also used in Vat Photopolymerisation technologies like SLA (Stereolithography), DLP (Digital Light Processing) and DLS (Digital Light Synthesis) as a liquid material and even in SLS (Selective Laser Sintering) as a powdered material.
Composite 3D Printing Materials
Composites can be segregated as basic or general purpose composites and industrial composites. The general purpose composites available in filament form are wood/polymer or metal/polymer composite. Some amount of wood or metal is mixed with the polymer and made into a filament form. These are mostly used as per the product requirement.
Industrial composite materials used in 3D printing refer to complex and special purpose materials like carbon fibre and fibreglass which improve the durability and strength of the products. Though these materials are not in regular use but are used as per the specific application.
Metal 3D Printing Materials
Most commonly used metals are Stainless Steel, Aluminium, Cobalt, Nickel and its derivatives. It is obvious that these materials give better strength. These are mostly used in SLM (Selective Laser Melting), DMLS (Direct Metal Laser Sintering) and EBM (Electron beam machining) processes, and they are now largely into regular usage.
Gold and Silver can also be directly used as a material for jewellery making. These are very popular materials to be used in powdered form. Another material, Titanium, which is one of the strongest metal is also used in specific applications like healthcare, aerospace and sports cars.
Metal materials are also used as metal rods in Bound Metal Deposition™ (BMD) an extrusion-based metal 3D printing technology developed by Desktop Metal.
Ceramic 3D Printing Materials
Ceramic is relatively new in the 3D Printing materials list. The use of ceramics has attracted mixed reviews with varying degree of success. The major drawback being that even after 3D printing the product has to undergo the same traditional finishing processes like firing and glazing.
Biocompatible 3D Printing Materials
Biocompatible materials used in 3D printing are very important from the medical point of view. The medical field has gained a lot from the 3D printing technology in terms of manufacturing the bones, prosthetic parts, customised sensors and devices (hearing devices), etc. While most of these products are made from regular materials like PLA and ABs for external studies, and titanium for implants, researchers have also developed biocompatible materials. Companies like Formlabs, EnvisionTec, Carbon and more offer such materials that can be used for products that come in contact with the human body.
Apart from this, the scientists have also developed bio-inks. These are materials that can be used to print body parts like tissues, ears, heart and others. While most of the applications are still in the developmental phase, the bioinks are a reality and are widely used for research purpose.
Food 3D Printing Materials
How many times have you looked forward to having a breakfast in an early morning flight? I really doubt that, but now imagine having a customised breakfast; a 3D Printed breakfast as per your preference, now that would definitely cheer you up. This is the power of 3D printed technology in food industry. 3D food printing is new and grabbed the attention of one and all. The materials are still in its developing stage but it is not long before we actually bring home a printer and print our food, rather than cook.
The newest trend in food 3D printing is to 3D print vegan-meat. Companies like Redefine meat, SavorEat, and more are experimenting with 3D printed meat, seafood and they are quite successful. KFC, Kentucky Fried Chicken, is also expected to offer 3D bioprinted chicken nuggets in Russia by the end of 2020.
Concrete 3D Printing Materials
Concrete is a complex matrerial used in 3D printing but is now being developed at a large scale. Various companies are extensively using 3D printing to bring the technology to the mainstream construction. One of the most prominent project is announced by the UAE government called as the Dubai 3D Printing Strategy. Among the concrete initiatives included in the Strategy is the introduction of a new law under which 25% of new buildings’ components must be manufactured with 3D printing technology by 2025.
Proprietary 3D Printing Materials
Proprietary materials are the materials that are not released to the masses at large. These are specifically developed by OEMs like 3D Systems, Stratasys, EOS, etc. mostly in collaboration with end-users to support a specific application. A lot of research and experimentation goes into the formulation of such material and even takes years to develop. These are high-performance materials that offer a competitive edge over rivals and thus are not even revealed to the general public. These are formed by combining different types available materials mixed with additives to deliver superior performance.
Above were some of the popular materials used in 3D Printing. The early machines only used plastic material and that too in a solid form, but now materials are specifically developed for all the 3D printing technologies. Researchers are rapidly developing new materials for it applicability in 3D printing. The number and type of materials are adding up in the already long list of materials used for 3D printing.
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