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)
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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