Objet Ltd. has released 39 new digital materials for use with its Connex 3D multi-material printing systems. The materials are tougher than their predecessors. They also offer a wider range of shore scale values and are resistant to high temperatures.
Bruce Bradshaw, Objet's US marketing director, told us that the high-end Connex 3D printers print multiple digital materials, each a custom blend of two out of 17 possible base materials.
High-temperature materials are sometimes brittle, and strong materials are not always heat-resistant. Before, when you made a 3D-printed prototype, you had to make a tradeoff between strength and temperature resistance. With digital materials, you can take the best characteristics of each and combine them digitally, for example, to get a high-temperature-resistant material that's also strong.
New digital materials for Objet's Connex 3D printing systems offer improved toughness, a wider range of shore scale values, and resistance to high temperatures. They also come in new shades of gray. (Source: Objet)
Engineers now can include up to 14 digital materials with different properties -- rigidity, flexibility, opaqueness, transparency, ABS-like qualities, different color shades, and high-temperature resistance -- in the same model. This makes it possible to simulate very precise material properties that most realistically match the prototyping stage to the end product. (A video on the next page shows a classic car model printed with multi-material 3D printing technology.)
Blending materials on the fly lets the Connex system put certain combinations in specific areas of the model to get different values of a given material property, such as different shore values for a range of softness and flexibility. Engineers select the values they want, including shore values and tensile and tear strength. This could produce a rigid steering wheel with a soft cover.
Objet has really done a great job pushing a variety of materials for their 3D printers, thus upping the utility of how they can be used. My question is what exactly makes a material "digital"? I get the ability to mix and tune the properties so that they can mimic more traditional materials. But how is that done in a digital fashion? Is there some sort of software algorithm that handles the finetuned mixing or is it a property in the material itself?
"Digital materials" is Objet's term. As Bradshaw is quoted as saying, they are combined digitally, meaning via computer--preprogrammed--during printing, versus making parts of a prototype separately, and mechanically combining them after printing. The point is that engineers can program the printer to print different material property combinations in different parts of the model, as Objet describes on the page at the link we gave in the article.
Thanks, Nadine. Actually, it's more than visual resemblance: with different material properties in different parts of the model that more closely resemble the product, the model does a better job of simulating form, fit and especially function.
That's my impression, too, Rob. Objet has been quite consistent in its drive to make more materials available for its 3D process, to serve the need for function as well as for form and fit, in prototypes and models.
I'm not sure these 3D printed prototypes, digital materials or not, are meant to be a full-on replacement for building a real working prototype with real materials. I think they are meant to be part of the process and help eliminate the need for building so many different variations of physical working prototypes, which can be costly and time consuming. These methods are far more efficient and less expensive compared with building expensive tooling.
Beth, thanks for that succinct explanation. A production sample/working prototype made with actual materials would be the best test, but that's not always possible, due to the cost of tooling alone, not to mention the high cost of small, non-production amounts of materials, for example, or the time involved. Which is why the 3D prototype/model industry got started: saving time and money and getting a lot closer to an understanding of the end-product.
There seems to be some semantic confusion. Form and fit are more than visual--if a part fits with another part, that's not visual, that's mechanical. To do so, it must be the right form. Functionality of a part is only visual if the part's looks have something to do with its function. It's not the materials that simulate anything, it's the part made with those materials, which with 3D technology can be a lot more than a mockup.
"Digital" materials is the new "i" anything, strictly a marketing term. These materials are manipulated by an electro-mechanical device controlled digitally and the shape that it making arose from a digital file.
Semantic argument aside the technology is fascinating and the proliferation of materials that are compatible with these 3-D printing processes can only serve to make the life of the design engineer simpler. Printing a 3-D part is a first step in the evaluation of a design, does it look, fit, etc. as I expected. If so, good, I can make a more functional prototype with more appropriate materials, if not, good, I didn't spend too much money or waste too much time.
I look forward to the growth of this technology, but I won't be calling these 3-D inks "digital materials".
Hi - some clarity on our Digital Materials: Digital materials are composite materials made of 2 physical cartridge base materials. The two Objet model materials are integrated in specific concentrations and structures to provide the desired mechanical and thermal properties; enables close simulation of the target product materials. Digital Materials are generated on the fly during the printing process using a software algorithm which defines the jetting pattern which results in the composed materials structure. Digital materials do not exist as cartridge-based materials but only in the resulting model or part.
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