Silicone 3D Printing
Silicone is a relatively new material in 3D printing, though not due to a lack of demand as its mechanical properties are ideal for countless applications. The technology took some time to develop because silicone has a very high viscosity, making it difficult to 3D print in a precise manner. Silicone is an elastomer, and unlike thermoplastics it cannot return to a liquid state after it’s been solidified.
An elastomer is a polymer with viscoelasticity (viscosity and elasticity); it’s the technical name for rubber. The first rubber came from the sap of hevea trees in the Amazon rainforest, which are now more commonly known as rubber trees. Rubber has a lot of things going for it, most notably of which is the fact that it can be stretched and will return to its original shape when released. Silicone, being a synthetic rubber, shares that trait but it boasts several other appealing characteristics as well.
Properties & Applications of Silicone
- – Excellent thermal stability, up to 200°C and as low as -80°C, with certain formulations able to go higher and lower
- – Repels water and is resistant to steam
- – Ideal compression set for forming tight seals
- – UV resistant
- – Electrical insulator, even under water
- – Tear resistant
- – Transparent, ideal for optics
- – Can be sterilized
- – Flame retardant
- – Food safe
- – Biocompatible
Those properties lend silicone to be found in a wide range of industries, such as manufacturing, energy, food production and handling, automotive, aerospace, consumer goods, healthcare, electronics and agriculture. Everything from gaskets and tubes to keypads and switches are made from silicone rubbers. The sound dampening devices in cars and the black boxes in airplanes are also made from the material. That flexible non-stick bakeware in your kitchen can go in the oven, freezer, and dishwasher because it’s made of silicone. And your snorkel keeps water out of your nose thanks to silicone. With all these uses, it’s no wonder engineers wanted to be able to 3D print with it.