As it stands, additive manufacturing faces a problem — 3D printers leave inconsistent surfaces and fluctuation in mechanical properties because they’re built layer by layer. Manufacturers, therefore, have to sacrifice either surface finish or mechanical properties because of the process used to produce them.
Luckily, thanks to advances in technology, new isotropic materials, and processes seek to change the industry. By utilizing digital light production, oxygen permeable optics, and programmable liquid resins, we can produce parts that offer consistent finishes, excellent mechanics, and high resolution.
Making Materials in a New Way
Digital Light Synthesis
A new process called Digital Light Synthesis increases the overall consistency of parts, producing a project that is similar to injection-molded parts (i.e., solid on the inside). The process provides parts that are great for end-use because they will behave consistently in any direction. But how does it work?
Essentially, light and oxygen balance allows for the speedy production of parts by projecting light through an oxygen-permeable window and into UV-curable resin. When UV images are projected, the part becomes solid, and light passes through a layer of uncured resin between the printed part and the oxygen-permeable window. Once this process is complete, the part is baked in a forced-circulation oven, which sets off a chemical reaction that provides strengthening.
Strong, Versatile Results
Unlike the brittle and comparatively fragile parts produced by large-scale additive manufacturing, digital light projection results in parts that are strong. These parts receive heat-activated programmable chemistry that yields high resolution parts closer to the engineer-grade parts users expect.
Steel and aluminum are great examples of isotropic material. They’re the same strength in any direction, leading to extreme versatility and usability – but they’re incredibly heavy for their respective size. In different industries, there are different expectations and requirements for the ratio of strength to weight, which can greatly impact the choice of material, especially when cost is factored in.
Exploring the Uses for Low-Cost, Reliable Materials
So, how could isotropic materials, with their high material strength, resistance to high temperatures, and consistent finishes, change the industry?
One likely use is as custom mold inserts for injection molding, which will reduce upfront costs and is especially helpful in low-volume production runs. Isotropic materials might also find a home in PCB enclosure (and other) prototypes at a low cost before larger production runs. In lowering the costs of functional prototypes, companies could be encouraged to explore new, innovative projects that would otherwise have been prohibitively expensive.
Companies are also beginning to offer isotropic finishes, which are advertised as a highly polished surface designed to lower friction, heighten water resistance, etc. These finishes can be quite useful in harsh environments for a variety of industries.
Fusion 360: Providing Stability and Certainty in a Fast-Moving Industry
Obviously, a process that yields better results at a cheaper price point will turn a few heads. Isotropic material has always been lauded for its durability, polish, and consistency, but new processes are making it more affordable and lightweight (and, ultimately, more common). As we see more companies with the technology to embrace new isotropic processes, we’ll see design shift to accommodate better products.
Though the industry is constantly changing, Fusion 360’s agility is here to stay. It is equipped to help you on a variety of projects with any number of materials. Within the simulation workspace, you’re able to select and specify your materials, apply constraints, apply loads, define contact conditions, and run simulations. Then, you’ll see your results and review and compare, modifying everything from settings to material. You can come to understand exactly what you need for your project, so you can understand how to take advantage of an ever-evolving industry.
Try Fusion 360 for free today.