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3D Printing Progress
Posted on May 15, 2018

Silicone 3D printing for soft robotic grippers

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The ACEO team from WACKER will soon present 3D printing with silicones. The unique drop-on-demand technology, a milestone in additive manufacturing, enables both high precision and freedom of design.
 
Soft robotics mimic living organisms and adapt to their surroundings. Increased flexibility and adaptability for accomplishing tasks as well as improved safety when working around humans, stimulate the use in food industry, advanced manufacturing and e-commerce.
 
In order to manufacture grippers with complete freedom of design and function, 3D printing is the method of choice. ACEO 3D printing of silicone elastomer allows to customise soft robotic grippers to varying size, shape and weight easily. The real elastomer made from 100% silicone with food compliance and biocompatibility are based on Wacker Chemie AG advanced silicone rubber technology. ACEO 3D printing enables a digital fabrication of pneumatic silicone actuators exhibiting unprecedented programmable bio inspired architectures and motions.
 
Silicone Elastomers are inorganic synthetic rubbers. They offer a unique combination of chemical and mechanical properties such as hardness or color variation, which they maintain throughout the printing process - a result that cannot be achieved by organic elastomers. 3D printed silicone objects are comparable with other manufacturing methods like injection molding or rapid prototyping.
 
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Silicone has been industrially produced for about 70 years. The modern high-tech material, which is known for its longevity and elasticity, has further properties which can achieve a significant added value in various applications. Silicone is extremely temperature-stable and media resistant. Its nearly limitless colour portfolio includes even highly transparent and black grades. In addition, it can be formulated either electrically conductive or insulating. Certified silicones are biocompatible which make them ideal for healthcare applications.
 
The ACEO technology is based on a drop on demand principle. The print head deposits single silicone voxels on a building platform which flow together smoothly forming a homogeneous surface. After printing a layer, the curing is activated by a UV light. In this manner a three dimensional object is built up layer by layer. In order to realise complex structures, overhangs and cavities, a support material is printed during the same process. Right after the end of the printing, the silicone from part is removed from then printer. The support material, which is environmentally safe, is easily and quickly washed out with water. Subsequently the part is post-cured to achieve the final mechanical properties.
 
In a web shop customers can upload their own CAD designs which are then being additively manufactured in the Print Fab in Burghausen, Germany and shipped to customers worldwide. An interdisciplinary team across material, hardware, software and design offers several accompanying services, among contract development for design and material. Various R&D co-operations with universities or other research institutions aim at further increasing the expertise in this highly specialised field of 3D printing.
 
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Dr Bernd Pachaly explains "We are proud to present a new 20 Shore A silicon, now we can offer 20 to 60 Shore A, a compelling range not only for soft robotics. We will keep the speed of out development to further broaden our service offerings."
 
Source and top image: ACEO
Learn more at the next leading event on the topic: 3D Printing USA 2018 External Link on 14 - 15 Nov 2018 at Santa Clara Convention Center, CA, USA hosted by IDTechEx.