A new technology seeks to use electricity to improve the strength of 3D printing. It has been realized that weak bonds between molecules of the materials that are 3D printed can be strengthened if additional heat is added during the printing process.
With this in mind, a company called Essentium has come up with the FuseBox technology that seeks to improve the structural integrity of the 3D printed materials. Structural integrity has been one of the biggest challenges facing the 3D printing technology and its viability as the next technology in manufacturing.
How does FuseBox strengthen the plastic bonds?
In simple terms, the FuseBox makes use of heat and electricity in order to raise the temperature of the material that is printed before and after each layer is deposited. This addition has been built into the conventional printer to combine these two elements in the printing head.
The result of the process is a more strengthened body of the products. The bodies of these printed products have traditionally been the weakest especially in fused deposition modelling printing (FDM). FDM is a layer-by-layer printing technology that is used by many of the desktop 3D printers.
The company states that the resulting product is more than 90 percent stronger than a similar product created by the use of injection moulding. It may not have been the best quality possible but this a step in the right direction. In fact, the pieces that came out of the FDM printer during a demonstration at the Rapid Conference in Pittsburg were denser than what comes out of similar printers even the industrial ones.
As most of the industry’s professionals agree, FDM printing technology has a delamination problem. Given that it is a layer-by-layer printing process, you are bound to get weak bonds between each layer that are printed. What the FuseBox does to overcome this is reheating the plastic prior to printing and post heating the plastic after a layer is printed. In the end, there is a large heat-affected area in the printed product. This makes it stronger in every direction and between all the layers.
The new technology is not different in operation from the conventional FDM printers. You may not notice any change when a FuseBox activated 3D printer is working. However, with a little inspection, you may realize a purple glow between the print head and the bed on which printing is being done. This glow is produced by the reaction between air and plasma as the print head fuses material together in its building of the product layer after the other.
What is the cost of the new technology?
The new technology does not come cheap. Having the new FuseBox added to your printing system will cost you in excess of $5,000. Given that the conventional industrial 3D printers cost around $10,000 to about $15,000, the new system is likely to push the costs between $15,000 and $20.000.
While this cost is high, most industrial consumers can handle the added cost comfortably. The company also offers opportunities for 3D printer manufacturers to work with this company and integrate the new technology into the product line.
Several manufacturing companies are looking at 3D printing technology as a potential way to move their manufacturing a step higher. This has been made possible due to the ability to customize the 3D printers. 3D printers can be made to print products as per the wish of the needs of the company by changing a few components and tweaking a few settings here and there. This technology offers great convenience to many companies out there. The entry of the FuseBox into the scene is a great leap into enhancing the 3D printing cum manufacturing dream.
With the challenge of weak bonds seemingly solved, a few other issues were evident in the Rapid Conference. These issues stand in the way of realizing 3D printing in the mainstream manufacturing. Key among them is the speed. Everyone at the conference could tell that the FuseBox stacker system was very slow in printing the layers of the demo product. Unless this issue is solved in the near future, we are still a distance to achieving 3D printer manufactured products in our mainstream production units.
Luckily, the level at which the 3D technology is growing with the addition of rapid innovations aimed at improving the quality of printed products, it is a matter of time before a solution to speed problem is reached. In the meanwhile, several companies stand to benefit from the use of heat and electricity to create stronger 3D prints.