Category Archives: 3D Printing Materials

Made In Space and SpaceX to Deliver First 3D Printer to Outer Space

Imagine… being able to design tools for astronauts in outer space, that could be printed in space, using materials found right there, out in the galaxy. Sound like the start of next Armageddon-esk blockbuster? Well, it’s not.

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Launching today, is SpaceX CRS-4, another historic Dragon spacecraft on a mission to the International Space Station; but this time, it carries more than supplies and moustronauts. This spacecraft is taking a specially tested, groundbreaking new 3D Printer designed by the our friends at Made In Space, to the International Space Station for it’s first in-space testing. This marks the start of a new era, the first step in bringing on-demand additive manufacturing to outer space.

MIS_Printer_black

There are many challenges when designing for printing in 3D. For starters, there’s nothing to hold anything material in microgravity. Even after solving the gravity dilemma, the printer has to get off the ground, and endure 9G’s of force during launch. Ensuring precision with an extruder stabilized by no gravitational force was a problem our friends at Made In Space were committed to solving. After four years of extensive testing on microgravity flights and research at their NASA Ames office, their dream of 3D Printing of space is now being realized. You can watch the this historic moment live during the wee hours of the morning, a sleep sacrifice I’m personally more than willing to make.

After this initial round of tests, including the printing of 21 demonstration parts, Made In Space looks to recycle broken tools, space waste, and even regolith (aka moon dust) as material for the printer. The fact that this space man could be made of the moon dust we first saw Buzz Aldrin’s footprint in someday, quite soon, is absolutely mind blowing.

Astronaute Wireframe by Vidal Design

Oh, and about those Moustronauts. SpaceX will also carry 20 mice that will live on the ISS for 6 months, approximately a quarter of their lifetime, allowing scientists to study the effects of prolonged zero gravity exposure. This data can then be extrapolated out to apply to human life and weightlessness tolerances. Currently, astronauts spend six months in space at a time, missions to mars could take two years or more. The only way to see the effects of prolonged space travel, is to get help from our furry rodent friends. I can’t help but wonder, if things get out of control, will they have to 3D Print mousetraps?

All jokes aside, what is the biggest challenge you see with 3D Printing tools in space? What tools do you want to design for astronauts?

 


 

Full Color Plastic 3D Print Material Torture Test Video

We are testing Full Color Plastic 3D Printing at Shapeways and what better way to test than with material torture videos.  We 3D printed a few basic parts to test for strength, flexibility, water and fire resistance.

Take a look at the video above to see the material under all of the different torture tests (oh, I was gentle as I wanted to test some of the parts in real world applications).  Overall while the material is not as refined or durable as SLS Nylon, which is the benchmark to which I compare all 3D printed materials, you can still do interlocking parts AND it is in almost full color (CMY, no K).
Shapeways Full Color Plastic 3D Printing is Flexible ish

The material is not as strong as our popular Nylon SLS material but is definitely less brittle then Full Color Sandstone.  At 3mm thickness the material is relatively stiff with only a small amount of flexibility (depending on geometry) yet at 1.5mm thickness the parts flex quite easily, to the point where the material may fail after just a few cycles of bending.  At 1mm thickness of wires, the prints can be very easily broken with very little effort so I really recommend at least 2mm walls/wires unless you never, ever intend to  touch your 3D prints.

Shapeways Full Color Plastic 3D Printing is machinable

I also gave the material a quick grind with a Dremel which the full color plastic held up fairly well to.  If you have a printed part that fits on an existing component that is too tight, you could easily and reliably grind away excess material with a clean finish.  I imagine it would respond to sanding with similar success as the color is impregnated approximately 2mm into the surface of the 3D prints, you could smooth the parts without removing all the color as long as you are not too heavy handed.  I am still experimenting with the parts in a tumbler to see if we can automate the smoothing process.

Shapeways Full Color Plastic 3D Printing is Waterproof

I am quite excited that the full color plastic is entirely waterproof, after soaking for over 24 hours there is no bleeding of colors, no degradation of material strength, stiffness or any swelling.  I have not had a chance to really UV test the pigments but as far as moisture is concerned this could be used for outdoor applications.

Shapeways Full Color Plastic 3D Printing is flamable

Another concern may be exposure to heat, the material feels as though it will deform under high temperatures but it definitely catches fire easily and stays alight emitting a terrible smell. So please do not expose you full color plastic 3D prints to exposed flames.

If you have any other tests you would like me to do to our Full Color Plastic, please leave a comment in the blog.


 

Full Color Plastic 3D Prints from the Shapeways Community

The first wave of full color plastic 3D prints are starting to appear on the Shapeways forums showing the level of color saturation, material strength and precision that you can expect with your full color 3D prints.

3D printed full color plastic flowers Shapeways

Barratomica seems to have the best results so far with his full color plastic flower rings showing a nice color palette and regular, organic forms.

Others are having less success with their full color plastic 3D prints including our very own Mitchell with his scale model trains.  The colors in his model are not as crisp with a sligthly faded look to them as Multihawk also found with his prints.

As you can see below his full color plastic 3D prints look quite faded with some white spots evident on the surface and colors bleeding.  This may be in part because of the relatively small size of Multihak’s mini figurines, it would be interesting to see the exact same models in full color sandstone to compare.

Multihawk also experienced some warping in the thin areas of his small model as did Lensman with his Icicle and Stalactite Pendants Models where the small tips of the pendants were warped.  These models are also relatively small with a total length of around 5cm and just over 1cm at the widest point.  From this we may be able to deduct that the parts may go through some thermal shock after the printing process that is introducing this warpage.  As we learn more about this machine and the post processing we may be able to reduce this warpage that some designers are experiencing.

Thank you to all that are sharing their results in the It Arrived forum on Shapeways, we really appreciate your feedback as the more you tell us the more we learn.  Keep them coming.


 

Watch Shapeways Elasto Plastic 3D Prints Burn (VIDEO)

Ok, before we move on to more 3D printed material tests, we need to burn all that lay before us, including Shapeways Elasto Plastic 3D prints. In this material torture test we set that bad boy on fire and watch it burn, dripping like flaming napalm onto the floor.  Please keep your Elasto Plastic 3D prints away from naked flames because it catches afire easily, stays alight and drips terrible flaming plastics that is not so easily extinguished.

 

 


 

SnowWhite a Low (ish) Priced ‘Cold’ SLS 3D Printer Currently in Development in Italy

The SLS 3D printer market is looking to be shaken up with yet another (relatively) low price SLS 3D printer currently in the research and development stage in Italy.  The SnowWhite is a cold SLS 3D printer by Sharebot that they are getting ready to unveil at the London 3D Printshow.

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Looking at the images they are still early on in the process, using a round piston as a print bed (round pistons are easier, ask Andreas Bastian with his Open SLS project) and a fairly small build area.  With the industrial 3D printers Shapeways uses for SLS 3D printing made by EOS, we heat the Nylon powder to just below melting point, then the laser raises the temperature only slightly to sinter the material from powder to solid.  Sintering the Nylon without pre-heating may cause greater thermal shock to the parts, and increase the power required of the laser, but it may also make it faster to cool down which could be a huge advantage to getting prototypes out faster.

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To get some insight from someone who has actually experimented with ‘cold SLS’ I asked Andreas Bastian to see if he could see an advantage over ‘pre-heated’ SLS.

I would be hard-pressed to list the performance advantages of cold SLS– while it saves on energy and BOM cost, the thermal gradient the material is subjected to is significantly larger (possibly leading to material degradation) and the curling/warping due to the massive thermal contractions of the material require support (really restraint) structures.  It’s the heated chamber in SLS that allows such freedom of form and geometry– an unheated SLS machine will have nearly all the same geometry constraints as an FDM machine, including the necessity of adhering the print to a build surface.  That being said, support/restraint structures for SLS are new territory and there may be viable options there.  As many of the low-cost FDM machines have demonstrated, it may not be necessary to fully replicate the process used at the industry level (heated chambers).  That being said, I would like to see some ASTM D638 tensile testing data before I print any functional parts on their system.

Sharebot are pitching the SnowWhite SLS 3D printer to sell for under $26,000 USD when it hits the market to join the Ice 1 & Ice 9 by Norge Systems  in the first wave of relatively low cost SLS 3D printers that may spread in a similar manner as FDM 3D printers have over the past 4 years.


 

More Videos of Shapeways 3D Printed Materials Torture Testing with FIRE

In the previous Shapeways Material Torture Test I set fire to our base materials in the Shapeways Sample pack.  Today I want to share a few more detailed videos showing how each material burns using a larger 3D print.   In this post we will take a look at our SLS Nylon, SLS Metallic Plastic (Alumide) which is a Nylon and Aluminum composite, and Full Color Sandstone which is made of Gypsum powder, bound together with an adhesive then soaked in Cyanoacrylate (super glue).

Take a look first at our most popular material, 3D printed Nylon (WSF).

It does catch fire fairly easily but seems to extinguish itself after a short time based on this geometry.  The Nylon melts into a hot, smelly napalm type form then cools and hardens fairly quickly.  Do not try this at home. Do not expose your Nylon 3D prints to fire.

Next we set fire to the 3D Printed Metallic Plastic (Alumide) which is a Nylon and Aluminum powder based 3D printing process.  It does catch fire very easily and stays alight, dripping a really nasty powdery, smelly hot napalm type goop, literally dripping fire.  You should really keep your Metallic Plastic (Alumide) 3D prints away from exposed fire. Really.

Setting fire to Shapeways 3D Printed Full Color Sandstone (Gypsum Powder, Binder, Ink and Cyanoacrylate) which is a powder based 3D printing process developed by Zcorp.  It does catch fire quite easily and stays alight, burning slowly and steadily.    The smell is not to noxious, smelling a little like burnt paper or cardboard.  After 6 minutes the 3D print was still burning so I blew it out to save the boredom.

All three of these 3D printed materials should definitely be kept away from naked flames.


 

The First Desktop SLS 3D Printer Now on Kickstarter

We have seen many FDM 3D Printers, a couple of SLA and even a few DLP 3D printers launch on Kickstarter, now the first of the much awaited SLS machines are starting to test the ravenous market for 3D printers.

DIY SLS 3D Printer on Kickstarter

SLS (Selective Laser Sintering) is the core technology behind our 3D Printed Nylon (white strong & flexible) 3D printing at Shapeways, one of our most popular materials.  The SLS process is by far the most versatile as the powder surrounding a sintered part acts as support material, so you can make complex, interlocking parts, with overhanging parts, cantilevers, holes in multiple directions, and hinged parts fully assembled, the excess powder is then brushed and blown away to reveal the part.  No nasty support material or structures to deal with.  In short, it is an incredibly versatile process.

The process is called Sintering, because the layer of powder is heated up to just below melting point, the laser then follows and melts the powder turning it into a solid, without it going to liquid form first.  This helps to control the material warpage and thermal shock so the 3D prints are accurate and strong.

The Ice 1 & Ice 9 by Norge Systems may be the first SLS 3D printer available at a price that is affordable for a small design firm at just over $8,000 USD at current exchange rates for the smaller Ice 1 on Kickstarter which has a Build volume: 200x200x250 mm Layer thickness: 0.1 – 0.15mm.  Not Shabby.  The Ice 9 promises a Build volume: 300x300x450 mm at a price point closer to $35,000 USD.

Ice9, the first low budget 3D SLS printer! from Norge Ltd on Vimeo.

To temper excitement, (oh, and I am VERY excited) the units are proposed to ship in December 2015 which is quite a wait if you have dropped $8,000 as a backer, coupled with the tendency for hardware on Kickstarter to ship late.  The video shows the printer in action, but does not show the printed part as traced by the laser, they do show a different 3D printed part being pulled from the powder so perhaps the machine is not quite fully functional yet.

If you have the cash and patience I would really love to see this unit hit the market so please do support this project and the designers behind it.  Meanwhile there seems to be another play flirting with the desktop (ok, maybe a little big for your actual desk) market with an eerily similar logo to Norge. The videos by Sintratec look to be a little further on in the machine development.

Keep your eyes peeled, either way, the SLS market is going to change, maybe not in the exact same way as the FDM 3D printer market, but it will change.


 

3D Printing Material Torture Test – FIRE

Ever wondered what would happen if you set fire to your 3D prints?  Yeah, me too.

Following is a video of a quick flame test of five of shapeways core 3D printing materials including Alumide, Acrylic (FUD + Detail) , Full Color Sandstone, and Nylon (WSF).  Watch this 3 minute video to see how each of these materials reacts to a quick encounter with a blow torch. Please do not try this at home.


A little surprisingly the Alumide was the first to melt down like a powdery napalm candle.  Both of the Acrylics (both of which are UV cured resins) caught fire super easily and burnt steadily emitting a terrible odor.  The full color sandstone did not really want to stay alight with this geometry.  It is actually the Cyanoacrylate (super glue (Kragle)) final sealing process that really burns in the full color prints, I tried other prints that had not been dipped in Cyanoacrylate and they would not stay alight at all.  Finally the Nylon caught fire but did not maintain the flame for very long.  In other geometries I have seen the Nylon keep alight for longer, again dripping like napalm whilst still on fire.

In the end, these materials are in no way resistant to fire, keep them away from naked flames as it will most likely result in a hot dripping, smelly mess.

I will share more videos of each of the materials with different geometries so you can see in detail how each material reacts.

And, what material torture test would you like to see next?


 

3D Print in Nylon with Selective Laser Sintering – Part 1

This is the first in a series of 3 posts about 3D printing in nylon with Selective Laser Sintering. Click on the links to read part 2 and part 3

It’s now been almost six years since we started offering White Strong and Flexible (WSF) to you, our community and it’s a good time to share what we have learned.

So, this is the first of a series of three blog-posts that I am writing about Strong and Flexible 3D-printing. Please share your feedback by commenting, we would love to learn your thoughts and ideas!

First and foremost we are extremely happy to see the result of what you have made with WSF and later the color variants (together called Strong and Flexible Plastic). Over the last six years we have printed more than 2.5 million parts in Strong and Flexible. These part range from jewelry to cases for the iPhone, quad-copter accessories (see picture), to the fabulous Animaris Geneticus Parvus (see picture), lighting shades and more.  White Strong and Flexible Plastic and the colors have been and are still by far the most popular material on Shapeways.

Animaris Geneticus Parvus

3D print of Animaris Geneticus Parvus or Strandbeest

DJI Phantom accessories

3D printed DJI Phantom accessories

Let me share what it means to make something in Strong and Flexible Plastic. The current system on Shapeways is based on files. After you buy 1 or more copies of a product represented in a file, the work for us starts.

First, for new products, we have to check whether the products in the file are printable. Are the printers capable of producing the details? Are the products strong enough? Are the walls thick enough? Checking each new file is done by software and by hand to make sure you get what you want. If we believe we cannot print something, our team makes a clear report about the issues, including screenshots. As you can imagine this takes quite a bit of time. The checking and rejection process has become quite a challenge, more about this in the post next week!

After checking we plan the files into the tray of the machine. Depending on the size of the machine, each tray can hold hundreds and sometimes thousands of products. If the files hold multiple parts, here’s where it becomes hard. We sometimes need to increase separation of the parts (to prevent them to melt or fuse together) or reorient or simply separate them to optimize maximum tray fill. As we put more parts in a single tray, it increases the efficiency of the print run and in turn enables us to offer reasonable prices.

Now that we have planned the tray the file containing all parts for the print, called a slice file, is sent to one of our big SLS printers (picture below shows one of our massive EOS P7s). One printing run typically takes 24 hours, but our big P7 machines can print for up to 3 days! When the printing is done we quickly remove the full tray to let it cool. Cooling takes as much time as printing.

EOS P7 SLS printer in Shapeways factory at LIC

EOS P7 in our factory at LIC

After the tray is cooled down to room temperature, we retrieve the parts from the tray, which is now filled with nylon powder and parts. Digging the parts out of the powder one by one is actually a super fun process. You never know what you are going to find! The hardest to find are the very small parts, since distinguishing them from little plastic lumps is challenging. At one time someone tried to print parts as small as 1x1x1 mm!!

Now we need to remove the excess powder from each part, which is done with compressed air. Then we sort all parts. Some will be ready to go to our packing stations and be shipped, while others need post production. We either polish (see pic below of our polisher), or polish and dye the parts. After each step we need to sort again, since polishing and dying puts all parts together in batches again. So we spend a lot of time sorting parts and luckily we have gotten quite good at it ensuring everyone of you, our customers, get the right parts with the right finish. Files holding multiple parts are hard to sort. Our systems use the file as the unit and if it contains multiple parts its hard to recognize and to make sure we have all parts. Some files hold over 100 parts and even counting them takes a lot of time!

Shapeways Polisher in LIC

One of our big polishers at our LIC factory

We can typically do all the above steps in less than four days, which is quite miraculous given the amount of time the printing itself takes. Once all of these steps are complete, the products are ready to ship and are collected in the distribution wall of bins (see picture below). When the order is completed, our distribution team packs them up and sends them to you our customers to enjoy.

Shapeways Distribution Area wall of bins

Our distribution area with the bins holding parts ready to ship

Next week I’ll spend time diving a bit deeper in the specific challenges we face and how they influence the cost of 3D printing in nylon using Selective Laser Sintering.

Please feel free to ask questions in the comments below, or make suggestions for the deeper dive next week!

all the best,
Pete / CEO Shapeways

This is the first in a series of 3 posts about 3D printing in nylon with Selective Laser Sintering. Click on the links to read part 2 and part 3


 

Faster 3D Printing in Our Most Popular Materials

We’re always striving to make 3D printing more affordable and to get your products in your hands as fast as possible. So we’re excited to share that today, we’ve reduced lead times globally for Full Color Sandstone! We’re also increasing speed in the Strong and Flexible Family for our European and worldwide customers.

Textured Cuff by Ina

Textured Cuff by Ina

You can see the new ship dates reflected on our Materials page, upon checkout and below in this chart. In order to maximize the reductions we’ve broken the Strong and Flexible family into new sizes. Currently we only have a split between small WSF (<20cm) and large WSF (20cm>), by adding the medium category, we can make all of them faster, and let you get your small parts really fast: in just four days!

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Big thanks to our Supply Chain and Manufacturing teams for making this happen. These new faster speeds and size breakdowns are currently available ONLY for our European and worldwide customers, and we hope to roll them out soon to the USA and Canada. Stay tuned!


 

Not Everyone Has a Heart of Gold, But You Can Get One 3D Printed in Silver

The Anatomical Heart Pendant by leorolph is a beautifully detailed heart pendant that looks amazing 3D printed in Sterling Silver by Shapeways.  Of course you can order the pendant in solid 14k or Rose Gold, it just costs a little more.

Anatomic 3D Printed Silver Heart Jewelry

Take a look at the Owned Shop on Shapeways to see more unique jewelry by this Australian designer.

Remember, we have upped the speed on our Silver, Gold and Brass to get your 3D printed jewelry to you as fast as possible, so if you have an anniversary, wedding, or birthday coming up, Shapeways 3D printed jewelry can make the perfect, unique gift.


 

Intricate Sugar Skull Ring 3D Printed in Sterling Silver

As we introduce more 3D printing materials suitable for jewelry we are seeing the Shapeways marketplace evolve to include more amazing designs such as this Sugarskull Ring  by lougon.

3D Print Silver Skull RIng

Showing the intricate detail possible in our Sterling Silver 3D printing, Lougon post processed his 3D print by oxidizing to blacken the Silver, then polishing to return the raised sections to high polish, giving a rich contrast.

You can try this process yourself using egg yolks to blacken your Silver 3D prints to give the same affect.


 

Show Us Your Elasto Plastic 3D Prints

We introduced Elasto Plastic as our first 3D Printing maker material back in May last year so that the Shapeways community could have access to a impact resistant, flexible 3D printing material.  The team at the factory in Eindhoven get to see the amazing products you design with this unique material but because it is a Maker Material, and not available for sale as a product on Shapeways, many of us do not get to see and be inspired by your designs.

flexible 3D print material on Shapeways

We would love to see your Elasto Plastic designs shared in the It Arrived forum so that we can all see the range of products you are designing and get inspiration to explore the material in different ways.  We are looking forward to seeing photos of your designs on the Shapeways forums soon.


 

Beautifully Painted 3D Printed Sculpture

Even though we have over 40 material options at Shapeways for you to choose to 3D print with, sometimes you are looking for something a little different.  By post processing the 3D printed materials yourself, you can take your design in a whole new direction, be it functional or aesthetic.  PIXOLforge has taken our polyjet acrylic material known as Frosted Ultra Detail on Shapeways to a whole new level painting his sculpture with matte scale model paint after a quick cleaning with mineral spirits.  Once the paint was dry he hand rubbed down his 3D print with artist oil to get this amazing result.

high detail 3D print painted

What processes do you use to take your 3D prints to the next level?


 

Ultra exciting news for Frosted Ultra Detail

We’re happy to announce that, thanks to a recent machine upgrade, the Frosted Ultra Detail (FUD) Plastic bounding box has increased its maximum to 284 x 184 x 203mm, from its previous maximum of 127x178x152mm; a 220% x 3% x 34% increase respectively. This train by our Shapie Customer Service expert Mitchell shows off the new bounding box quite well.

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While most FUD products will still ship within six business days, please allow up to 10 for products that are over 70mm in each bounding box dimension.

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bigFUD-train-split-angle-onblk

So, what will you be printing in our new, bigger FUD?