After teasing its latest 3D printing technology at FAST + TCT last month, Metal desk officially unveiled FreeFoam, a new photopolymer resin designed for additive manufacturing of durable closed-cell foam parts without tooling.
The material, developed by Texas-based company Adaptive3D, which was acquired by Desktop Metal last year, is expected to “unleash the foam market from its many challenges” and is considered well suited for applications in automotive, furniture, footwear, sports goods and healthcare industries. The company says the material is already being used by customers in the automotive and furniture markets.
“FreeFoam is one of the most exciting and commercially important photopolymer solutions to come to industrial printing in years,” said Ric Fulop, Founder and CEO of Desktop Metal. “The market for conventionally made foam presents many challenges – from expensive molds that limit designs, to dense and heavy foams that absorb water and are expensive to ship and drive, to the inability to easily dial the Shore strength and hardness values in specific foam designs.”
FreeFoam parts are created using a DLP process. Printed parts contain dispersed heat-activated foaming agents that create closed-cell pores within the material. Once printed, the parts are heat treated at around 160-170°C to expand up to 2-7 times their size, depending on the quality of the resin. This means manufacturers can pack more parts into a printer’s build area and ship smaller parts ready to be expanded closer to the point of need.
FreeFoam is expected to become widely available in 2023 and will initially only be 3D printable on Desktop Metal’s ETEC Xtreme 8K descendant DLP system. While preliminary FreeFoam specifications are now available, Desktop Metal plans to offer several grades with different Shore hardness values and other specific material properties such as water resistance.
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