By Scott Cost, Director SLS Product Management

There are currently two main uses for 3D printing: prototyping and production. The majority of additive manufacturing companies focus only on meeting prototyping needs because the material demands for strong physical properties are less rigorous. 3D Systems excels at both prototyping and production needs because we have put the time and effort into making sure each material delivers the quality expected from each part. In many instances, choosing production-grade materials is more cost efficient than only serving prototyping needs because the parts last longer without failing and that durability over time saves money and effort:

  • Smaller companies can now offer true manufacturing solutions at a lower cost of entry
  • True production-grade materials allow customization of parts without having to purchase tooling, saving money and time
  • You choose: as we optimize each material for the printer, the parts can be used for either prototyping or production. Consistent part quality and surface finish require minimal post-processing – no more dyeing or washing parts
  • You no longer need to switch materials based on if the application is for prototyping or production.

After thousands of tests, I’d like to tell you about some of the processes we deploy at 3D Systems to deliver the ultimate production-grade SLS materials.

Duraform AF+ SLS Piston
DuraForm ProX AF+ delivers aluminum-filled nylon parts that have a low weight while maintaining metallic properties

Each application has a material that is best suited for it. End use interior parts need to have flexibility, durability and impact resistance while assembly jigs and fixtures need strength and rigidity. We strive to offer materials that can cover all additive manufacturing needs. Our R&D team is continually developing new materials and additives for existing materials based on production and prototyping needs. We work hand-in-hand with manufacturing industry leaders to understand their applications and then we work to deliver printing solutions ideal for those applications. Through these key customers we are learning what problems they encounter that traditional manufacturing methods have been unable to solve, and we are setting out to provide additive manufacturing solutions. Printing complex geometries with a variety of materials is the core of 3D printing, and it is the backbone of how 3D Systems develops partnerships and how it continues to innovate for the future.

So, what materials have we come up with, and what applications do they have?

Market insight indicated that there was a need for aluminum-filled plastic parts that have a low weight, but still maintain metallic properties for applications such as knobs, handles, certain automotive parts and consumer electronics. Combining flexibility with durability, DuraForm ProX AF+ was developed with this market need in mind and underwent rigorous testing. We at 3D Systems want to ensure that each material is optimized for each printer to produce parts with consistent mechanical properties and surface quality. For DuraForm ProX AF+, we ran thousands of sample parts to dial into the proper print settings. We then embedded these settings in a configuration file that the printer uses when DuraForm ProX AF+ is loaded in the machine. This guarantees that the wide range of applications and geometries printed meet the rigorous quality standards needed for production-grade additive manufacturing.

3D Systems DuraForm EX Black
DuraForm ProX EX Black produces true-black-colored production-grade parts that are ready to go with minimal post-processing

In addition to aluminum-filled plastic, customers (especially from the automotive industry) requested a true black-colored production-grade material that produces parts ready to go with minimal post-processing. In other words: without any coating requirements. DuraForm ProX EX Black is a nylon 11 material that has a much better elongation and impact resistance than nylon 12. The drawback is that nylon 11 is more difficult to run consistently for most printers. This is another example where we at 3D Systems have taken the time to optimize settings, to fully test the material and to validate the mechanical properties so that when DuraForm ProX EX Black is running on a 3D Systems printer, it is delivering production-grade parts with the strength and durability needed to meet the demands of end users. DuraForm ProX EX Black, when used for automotive interior parts or consumer goods parts, has to be able to withstand continuous impact and exposure to the elements without failing, and it does. 

Engineers are constantly looking for improvements and iteration to achieve better results and respond to ever changing requirements. This is why we have spent the last two years developing new materials designed to satisfy our customers’ demands for elongation, flexibility, impact strength, rigidity, temperature resistance or flame retardancy. We have done the hard work for you. If you have any questions or would like to learn more, get in touch – we are here to support.

Stay tuned for part 2 of my blog post to learn more about the development of our flame-retardant DuraForm FR1200 material we just certified with Emirates – amazing experience!