Setting the tone: developments in color 3D printing

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The turn of the millennium brought about many changes. As our planes stayed in the sky despite fears of the Y2K bug, technological advancements would see the rise of the internet, and with it things like social media and mobile apps. Buying music would become a thing of the past, as would our tendency to read words like these in print publications. It also coincided with the launch of full-color 3D printing, meaning that rapid prototypes would soon have an alternative to building parts layer-by-layer in monochrome.

Z Corp was the pioneer of this particular movement. By the time the company was acquired by 3D Systems 12 years later, its color 3D printing technology was enabling people like LAIKA to start applying color during construction rather than painting the parts in post-production. But LAIKA’s director of rapid prototyping Brian McLean told TCT in 2018 that even while working on Paranorman (2012), they found color 3D printing technology to be inconsistent “from print to print. the other”. It wasn’t just the users who had reservations about the technology. RICE Technical Director Eugene Giller worked as a senior R&D chemist at Z Corp between 2005 and 2010, and he too was unhappy with the quality of parts that Z Corp’s color technology would produce.

“I always thought it should be a technology that could deliver a fully functional color part, not just a shape,” the founder of RIZE told TCT. “For me, it was all about strength.”

Today there are a multitude of companies providing color 3D printers in the market, including RIZE, Stratasys, HP and Mimaki. The latter launched the 3DUJ-553 platform with its ability to print “over 10 million colors” in 2018 and followed it up with the smaller-format 3DUJ-2207 system in 2020. Its largest 3DUJ machine -553 offers a build volume of 500 x 500 x 300 mm andt uses UV curing inkjet process to print parts in color. White and transparent inks can also be mixed with colors to add transparency, while water-soluble materials allow post-processing times of just a few minutes.

Dutch service provider Marketiger was among the first users of Mimaki’s color 3D printing technology. By the end of 2019, the company was producing up to 20,000 custom figures each year, although a second 3DUJ-553 had been installed in early 2020. Thanks to the automatic cleaning sequence and queuing capabilities machine, Marketiger is able to print for up to 72 hours in a row without touching the printer, but generally sticks to overnight print jobs.

Due to the nature of its core business – custom figurines based on 3D scans of people – the company aims for a 100% return. To ensure that everyone who digitizes themselves gets a full color 3D printed model, Marketiger only starts making models after they have confirmed the quality of the scans and the editing of the models. But once the print button is pressed on Marketiger, it barely stops.

“My business is built on this machine running 24/7,” Marketiger manager Maikel de Wit told TCT at Formnext 2019. “This is causing problems because it is new technology. , but we can get more than 80 usage of this machine 24/7.

Obviously, a lot of advancements have been made in full color 3D printing over the years. With the inaccuracies and supposed fragility of early full-color 3D printed parts, it was hardly possible to build a tech-based business like Marketiger with Mimaki’s technology. Yet companies that commercialize the technology know that there is still a long way to go.

Giller has always been in this state of mind. He founded RIZE, in part because he was not happy with the quality of the components coming from the Z Corp printers. Yet he always believed in the potential of full color 3D printing. In launching RIZE, Giller aimed to provide a printer that can work in any environment to deliver functional, full-color parts that require minimal post-processing. His answer is XRIZE, which uses patented augmented material deposition technology to build parts by spraying a formulated release agent between the layers of extruded material. While the extrusion process allows carbon composites to be printed, the jet aspect of the process allows the voxel-level application of color graphics.

For RIZE, the potential applications go beyond prototyping and miniatures. Multi-colored medical models – as we detailed in TCT Magazine Volume 29 Issue 2 – are a key part of this technology, as are jigs and accessories. For manufacturing aid applications, the use of high performance polymers and composites ensures that parts can withstand the factory floor, while color can be used to indicate when a part needs to be replaced, such as with the fabrication aid shown at the top of the page. These are just a few of the ways RIZE customers are using its color technology, and they are quick to tell the Boston-based company how they can still improve.

“They want new materials,” says Giller. “And that’s why we are working very hard to introduce a new set of materials. They are really happy to [the current materials] right now, but there is a subset of customers who really want the parts to be placed inside vehicles where they are exposed to oil. They also require elastomeric materials.

As a result, RIZE is working to add such products to the Rizium One, Rizium GF (Glass Filled) and Rizium Carbon materials it already offers. Unsurprisingly, the company is not alone in expanding its full color 3D printing portfolio to meet growing customer demand.

Stratasys has been prolific in this regard. It now offers more than half a dozen full-color 3D printing systems in its J-Series portfolio, some of which are specifically designed for the dental and medical markets. In June, it introduced the J55 Prime, a desktop-friendly color system that runs as quietly as a refrigerator (under 53 DB), along with a range of new functional materials. Expanding material offerings, despite the wealth of machine options, is seen as the primary means of expanding the company’s color printing offering.

In line with the J55 Prime, Stratasys deployed rubber-like materials Elastico Clear and Elastico Black, the translucent biocompatible material Vero ContactClear for extended skin or body contact, Digital ABS Ivory for high impact designs and colors ultra-opaque permitted by the VeroUltra Family. Other materials in the Stratasys color range include flexible VeroFlex and versatile VeroVivid.

With advancements also being made with the 3MF file format and Stratasys aligning with KeyShot, the company is confident in its ability to deliver the detail and aesthetics that any designer could want, but as RIZE continues to push on the performance side. thanks to the continuous development of materials. .

“As far as the mechanical properties are concerned, this is still ongoing,” says Zehavit Reisin, Stratasys vice president, business segment and materials design manager, ROW. “When we discuss PolyJet materials, they’re acrylic-based photopolymers and they behave differently from, say, thermoplastics. Their thermal conditions or dimensional stability are likely to change if you put the part under stress, heat, aggressive environmental conditions and this is where durability is questionable. It’s there that [there is a question mark around] manufacture of end-use parts with PolyJet. But we continue to work very hard to improve the material properties of what you see on the J series today, which means the colors, transparency, mechanical and thermal properties are better to withstand the environmental conditions required.

As color 3D printing takes hold in the medical and prototyping industries, there is now a look to other opportunities. For a surgeon or designer, the benefits of full color 3D printing are obvious, but in other markets adoption is slower. This may not be a problem as there will always be medical procedures to perform and parts to design and redesign, but in this industry there is always an appetite to push the boundaries. And Giller is optimistic about the impact full color 3D printing can have in the future.

“In my opinion, we all have color televisions and no one wants to go back to black and white,” says Giller. “But I’m pretty old, I had a black and white television and I remember some people saying, ‘I don’t need color, television is an art’, and now no one thinks of that. way.If we can get it to one [lower] price, I think people would get used to printing in color. Right now, color is nice to have, but we want to make it a staple. “


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