Multi-Material 3D Printing with Silicones

Image showing a silicone part built from translucent and blue silicone simultaneously printed with ACEO®'s multi-material printing technology

A silicone part built from translucent and blue silicone simultaneously printed with ACEO®‘s multi-material printing technology. (Photo: ACEO®; Wacker Chemie AG)

Multi-material 3D printing with Silicones, ACEO®’s latest innovation milestone, will have its world premiere in November 2017. We spoke with Dr. Bernd Pachaly about the opportunities this new technology offers for various industries.

What is multi-material 3D printing?

Multi-material 3D printing is a process to 3D print multiple materials at the same time. For us, this latest development is yet another milestone. Silicones of different colors, hardness or even chemical properties can now be placed independent from each other at any given point throughout the printing process. This allows sharp as well as merging gradients. The result: even more freedom of design in the construction of objects with multiple materials 3D printed in one single process.

What was the reason for you to explore this new ground at ACEO®?

We simply followed the market’s demand. We noticed that customers had an increasing need to combine more than one material in 3D printing with silicones. Until now, there was no technology to combine real elastomers in one single process, which is way we wanted to find a new solution for our customers. This is our big advantages as a startup within a corporate structure of a global player like WACKER: If we believe in something, we have the capabilities to explore new grounds.

Where or how can multi-material 3D printing with silicones make a difference?

To me, the most interesting aspect is that it allows integrated functionality such as electrical conductivity. We offer silicones that can or cannot be electrically conductive. The combination of these two properties within a part produced in one single process might substitute traditional methods that need assembly of different parts. Think about heating elements or electronic components: you need a wire and an insulating component. Somebody has to assemble these components. With ACEO®, metals could be replaced with electrically conductive silicones, resulting in one process step without assembly.

What other industries can benefit from your innovation?

We are working on some interesting projects in medical and sealing technology. The focus there is more on the combination of hard and soft materials. As an example, we create anatomic models such as bones, muscles or tissue (read more). These parts are produced with inner structures and different materials to display the object’s realistic properties – all in one process.

The customer range for these applications goes from medical science to soft robotics: that means from anatomic models for universities to bionic hands where we can include electrical conducts in grippers in order to allow integrated functions.

How can multi-material 3D printing be useful for design projects?

To begin with, product designers have a choice of color combinations within one single 3D-printed part made of real elastomer. What is even more important is the – just like in medical science – the various degrees of hardness. A shoe sole for example consists of heterogenous parts to be either softer or harder where needed. This can be built in one process using inner structures or what we call 3D+ (read more), and now also with multiple materials.

Does multi-material 3D printing at ACEO® work with silicone only?

Let me give you a glimpse into the near future. Our Silicones can be combined with other materials, which is especially interesting for objects who need a soft and very hard component. We are currently researching materials such as thermoset or hard resin and hope to reach yet another milestone in ACEO®’s history soon.

Image showing a sample silicone part built from translucent and blue silicone simultaneously printed with ACEO®'s multi-material printing technology

A sample silicone part built from translucent and blue silicone simultaneously printed with ACEO®‘s multi-material printing technology. (Photo: ACEO®; Wacker Chemie AG)

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