How to Reliably 3D Print Flexible Filaments on Zortrax Inventure
- Dual extrusion system of Zortrax Inventure allows you to 3D print models of complex geometries.
- Zortrax Inventure can also 3D print flexible filament: Z-SEMIFLEX.
- Rubber-like Z-SEMIFLEX is based on TPU-98A material.
Zortrax Inventure is a professional dual-extrusion 3D printer compatible with semi-flexible Z-SEMIFLEX filament. Flexible 3D printing materials can bend without breaking and can withstand high temperatures but they are difficult to print with. Advanced extrusion system we have designed for Zortrax Inventure can handle them with ease and precision.
The Price of Flexibility
Thermoplastic elastomers (TPE) are plastics with rubber-like characteristics commonly used in the automotive industry among others. A standard TPE can be stretched up to twice its length and gets back to its original form without permanent deformation. It also has excellent interlayer adhesion and is resistant to high temperatures.But there are downsides as well. With relatively low shore hardness of 85A, the filament is soft and therefore difficult to handle for a standard FDM extruder. It has a history of clogging 3D printers up. We identified two possible solutions to this problem while working on Zortrax Inventure. First we could design the extrusion system to reliably handle flexible materials. Second, we could make the material itself easier to 3D print with. We went for both.
Z-SEMIFLEX 3D printing filament is not a standard TPE. Instead, we opted for a newer and more reliable version of TPE called thermoplastic polyutherane (TPU) combining soft and hard segments into a single polymer chain. This way we ended up with a filament that is easier for the extrusion system to handle and more resistant to abrasion while still offering elasticity with shore hardness set at 98A.We have also reduced shrinkage. While standard TPE shrinks roughly 1.2 – 3% during cooldown, Z-SEMIFLEX has a lower shrinkage at 0.8% to 1.8% which leads to more dimensionally accurate models. Still, getting the filament’s properties right was only half of the story. The rest is covered by Zortrax Inventure’s extrusion system.
In Zortrax Inventure the extruder feeding base and support filaments to their respective nozzles is attached right above the hotend. This solution by design works great with flexible materials because the the distance the filament has to travel between the extruder and the hotend is very short. The shorter the distance, the less likely a flexible filament is to bend on the way. But we didn’t stop there. Another challenge to overcome was getting the temperature distribution right.When TPU starts to melt above the hotend, it is likely to clog up the tube. That’s why we have designed Zortrax Inventure to efficiently cool down the area right above the hotend. This way the material gets heated only where it needs to. Then we fine tuned even the tiniest details like adjusting smoothness of the filament tube joining the extruder with the hotend to ensure reliable material feeding even during very long prints.
Benefits of Inventure
Flexible materials are perfect for prototyping shock-absorbing cases for mobile devices, automotive instrument panels, or airless tires for planetary rovers. They are indispensable wherever a combination of flexibility and resilience is needed. But they can be a nightmare for professionals. A clogged up 3D printer goes out of service for long hours which leads to drops in efficiency and increased costs.Zortrax Inventure offers following solutions. First you can efficiently work with flexible filaments. The printer has been designed to work with them. Second, you can make your flexible prototypes more dimensionally accurate and durable. Z-SEMIFLEX shrinks less than a standard TPE and is more resistant to abrasion. Third, Zortrax Inventure can 3D print Z-SEMIFLEX with soluble Z-SUPPORT filament allowing for more complex, elaborate shapes. That’s why Zortrax Inventure is the dual-extrusion 3D printer of choice whenever flexible prototypes are needed.
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