VoxelJet offers on-demand TPU parts

Voxeljet has expanded its on-demand 3D printing service and will now offer parts made from thermoplastic polyurethane, or TPU, using its High Speed Sintering (HSS) process. 

This Coral running shoe, designed by Shun Ping Pen, was printed in TPU on a Voxeljet HSS 3D printer.

The flexible material is characterized by durable elasticity, damping properties and high impact protection. There are various uses for the TPU parts, including in the footwear industry, for padding in helmets, saddles or seats, for elastic tubes and hoses, and for sealing and packaging. 

The TPU material was developed by materials manufacturer Covestro with input from Voxeljet to ensure that it would work with the HSS process. This follows the announcement last November that Covestro and Voxeljet would collaborate together. James Reeves, Global Director of Polymer Sintering (HSS) at Voxeljet commented at the time: “This is a match of two companies strongly believing in really close collaboration across the additive ecosystem. The potential of HSS to process specialty powder materials is tremendous. By offering customers material choices, we accelerate their access to pioneering products.”

The partnership will cover a range of materials, starting with TPU, but also including thermoplastic elastomers (TPE), polybutylene terephthalate (PBT) and polpropylene (PP) and will ensure that these materials are compatible with Voxeljet’s VX1000HSS 3D printer, which has itself been designed for high volume industrial production. Customers can test production of these materials on this printer through Voxeljet’s Early Access beta program.

Tobias Grün, Global Product Manager at Voxeljet,  says: “The close cooperation between material and machine manufacturers enabled us to bundle our joint know-how and thus coordinate and optimize the part quality as well as the 3D printing process.”

High Speed Sintering involves spreading a fine layer of polymer powder across a heated build platform and then printing a corresponding layer of the part to be built on that powder using a heat-absorbing ink. After this, an  infrared light is used to fuse the printed areas of the polymer powder, leaving unprinted material loose. This process is then repeated to build the part up layer by layer. Multiple parts can be printed in this way, side by side, to maximise the space available in the build area. 

Depending on the printing process, TPU can be very soft and elastic or very hard and persistent. Using the HSS method, these characteristics can be determined by the volume of infrared-absorbing ink used; the more heavily a build area is inked, the stronger the part. 

Voxeljet has worked with Xaar printheads and uses the different grey levels these heads offer to create different product properties per layer. This is in addition to the ability of most 3D printing methods to vary the strength of a component through the geometry of its design, such as having different wall thicknesses in the lattice structures that make up the component.

Grun explains: “The HSS technology in combination with the TPU material allows us to provide an inherently hard, highly stressable part with soft properties. This opens up completely new and highly individual application possibilities of 3D printing for plastic parts.”

Voxeljet claims that TPU components produced with its HSS printing process have particularly long-lasting permanent elasticity and excellent rebound properties compared to other TPU 3D printing processes. The process has passed the Cytotoxicity test to confirm that there is no damage to cells and tissue when the material comes into contact with the skin.

Grun added: “With the HSS process, we can produce individualised polymer parts on-demand at high quality and speed at comparatively low cost. High Speed Sintering is an economical, efficient and resource-saving solution due to the use of large-format print heads. The technology offers enormous potential for future-oriented products.”

You can find further details on the HSS process and the on-demand service from voxeljet.com.

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