With the first industrial 3D printer that can additively manufacture silicone articles, WACKER is presenting a worldwide innovation. Its business model is no less groundbreaking: customers can upload their design to our Webshop or print it themselves under professional guidance at our Open Print Lab. The finished article is then shipped to them.
With the novel additive manufacturing process, silicone parts with complex geometries can be printed.
Experts are ecstatic – across the globe, 3D printing is worth some three billion US dollars every year, according to the London-based market research institute IHS. This is estimated to rise to more than 20 billion US dollars by 2020. Virtually no other economic sector is currently growing as rapidly as additive manufacturing, especially in North America and Europe, and recently also China. Moreover, the market is in flux. Since key patents on 3D printing processes expired around two years ago, manufacturers of “traditional” printers and large chemical companies have also entered the 3D business.
So, 2014 was a good time for WACKER to develop a three-dimensional printing process for silicone. A CAD program produces the design and an appropriately programmed printer then manufactures the article, layer by layer.
“In the automotive sector, it will no longer be necessary to keep costly and complex stocks of silicone parts that are not needed in very large quantities.”
Dr. Bernd Pachaly
Head of WACKER SILICONES’ innovation department
Until now, 3D processes had mainly been used to print thermoplastics, ceramics and metals. “It was not possible to process elastomers – i.e. rubbery materials – with these printing processes,” explains Dr. Bernd Pachaly, head of WACKER SILICONES’ innovation department.
Molded silicone parts had previously mainly been produced by complex injection molding, where the processor must first prepare a mold, into which the liquid silicone rubber is then injected under pressure. This is only worthwhile for larger production runs.