The best way to glean insight into an emerging technology such as 3D printing is to speak to pioneers in the field. That’s why we were delighted when the team over at Breathe-3DP offered us some information about what they do, how they got started, and what they see for the future of 3D printing.
The Virginia-based company specializes in producing filaments that consistently print to a high standard and perform to the same level as molded parts. The team is always thinking about the end user when they produce a filament. “ We have end use performance in mind when we produce a filament. We want to enable additive manufacturing to grow further into demanding end-use applications”. The validity of the above statement is evident in abundance when one checks out Breathe-3DP’s product range. The recently launched Phoenix™ nylon filament has clearly been built with a laser focus on the experience of the end user.
The company has a rich history in the manufacturing industry. It is actually a subsidiary of Universal Fibers, a global leader in producing high-quality solution-dyed nylon since 1969.
It appears that focusing on end-user performance is something that runs through the DNA of both Breathe- 3DP and its parent company. As the team explains, “Our chemists and engineers have over 45 years of experience with polymers and additives. We use this knowledge to offer a wide range of fibers that perform the specific tasks they were formulated for”.
The range of applications for the fibers made by the parent company is mind-boggling. Customers order over 100 million pounds each year. “Our fibers are in the parachute used to land Curiosity, Our fibers are in 7 of the top 10 car brands including Tesla and we make a special fiber that is in the NFL players On Field jerseys”.
Solution-dyed nylon is an innovative concept that was first commercialized by Universal Fibers over 45 years ago. So naturally, we asked the team to elaborate further on what this actually is.
“By adding color and additives directly to the nylon fiber forming melt, we greatly improve UV fade and chemical resistance. This greatly reduces the process water consumption / discharge and our carbon footprint / impact.
This answer offers further proof of why Universal Fibers and Breathe 3D-P are so successful at what they do. Always innovating and always improving their products to give better functionality for end users.
A Natural Transition To Additive Manufacturing
Universal Fibers’ entry into the emerging technology of 3D printing arose from its culture of innovation. The management team constantly studies growth trends in technology areas that they understand and Breathe-3DP is a logical opportunity to pursue.
“FDM filament production has many similarities to our fiber production -both materials and processes. It is a natural transition to take what we know about chemistry and polymers and produce 3DP filaments.”
Breathe 3D-P is doing a great job in the 3D-printing space. The company’s inaugural filament, the PLA++ has garnered overwhelmingly positive reviews from end users. PLA (or polylactic acid) is one of the two dominant materials currently used for filaments in the 3D-printing marketplace alongside ABS.
The Virginia-based team wasn’t content with just using PLA, though. Staying true to their problem-solving ethos, they liked PLA but thought, ‘how can we make this much better?’. The result is the now ubiquitous PLA++ filament.
“Our PLA++ has significantly higher impact strength and physical properties but retains the high printability of the standard chemistry. Many of our customers use it as their functional material when printing.”
Breathe- 3DP’s filaments are known for being functional, robust, and uniform. The team has rigorous quality control procedures in place to ensure that each filament is produced to the same high standard.
“All filament is monitored during production with a tri-axis laser. This laser allows real-time tracking of the diameter and ovality by our engineers. Any filament that falls out of spec is scrapped and never makes it onto a spool. Every lot is tested in our print lab for color uniformity and test bars are printed“.
With such meticulous attention to detail, it’s no wonder that the Virginia-based lab is at the top of its game in producing consistently tough and functional filaments.
Any considered material undergoes a three-step development process at the company’s labs before being approved for production use in a filament. This development process can be summarized as:
- Does it make great filament? This includes the uniformity of the filament because this is crucial for consistent printing.
- Does it print well? In the end, the material has to print well to be useful to customers. Printing well encompasses things like resolution, bed adhesion, warping, curling, overhangs and print reliability.
- Does it have great properties? Breathe-3DP is all about functionality. If the material makes great filament and prints well, test objects of different geometries are printed and checked for stable physical properties.
This development process ensures that a microscopic level of detail goes into producing each filament. Nothing that doesn’t meet the demanding standards of the team will ever see the light of day.
The Future of 3D Printing
When an innovative company like Breathe-3DP offers an opinion on the future, it’s insightful to listen. We asked the pioneers what they see for the future of 3D printing.
The answer was as enlightening as you’d expect from people at the top of their game in technology:
“3D printing is enabling a new category of manufacturing, a realm that exists between injection molding and small batch customs. We think a new era of small volume, localized functional product manufacturing is where 3D printing will take hold. It will spur on a mindset and workflow of producing just what you need, just when you need it. As you can imagine, this is very different from the way large scale manufacturing is done today. “
Essentially, they believe that the 3D printing revolution will spark a new era of just-in- time production that could change the landscape of the manufacturing industry. They’ve made good predictions for performance products. We’re all anxious to see how this pans out.