Adaptive3D Hopes New Resin ‘unlocks Benefits Of 3D Printing

- Feb 20, 2020-

PLANO, Texas—Adaptive3D Technologies has released a new photopolymer resin for 3D printing, a material the company said is in line with its vision to produce high-quality, high-volume elastomers.

Plano-based Adaptive3D recently introduced Elastic ToughRubber 90, a high tear-strength, direct curing rubber and "polyurethane-like" elastomer, at FormNext in Frankfurt.

Product Marketing Manager Zach Reagan said the one-part, mix-free system will see its primary use in the footwear industry, though ETR already is used to produce door boots in the automotive industry. It also has applications for training in the medical industry and is used in some down-hole applications in the oil and gas realm, Reagan said.

"Really, it's for the type of shoes in the high performance athletic space, and can be found in the mid-sole portion," Reagan said. "The material can be 3D printed in complex micro-structured engineered foam with a repeating lattice structure, which allows for a different feel in different areas of the sole."

Adaptive3D said ETR is ideal for products that have high stress points—such as athletic shoes—and ETR, once cured, can withstand such tolerances, Reagan said.

"Everyone runs differently, everyone stands differently," he said. "A gasket is fairly simple to print, but ETR is great for customization because it allows for difficult geometries in complex micro-structures."

Adaptive3D CEO Walter Voit said ETR maintains a stable performance at cold temperatures and boasts a tear strength of 46 kN/m.

ETR also maintains a greater than 200 percent elongation, and is easy to process because of the one-part system that "ensures higher part-to-part quality," Adaptive3D said in a recent news release. ETR is pot stable, so leftover material can be used in future prints, reducing waste, according to Adaptive3D.

"Elastic ToughRubber unlocks the benefits of 3D printing to those who manufacture and sell rubber, polyurethane and foam parts," Voit said.

Reagan noted that ETR is not a true polyurethane, but rather classified as a plastic that is "rubber-like."

As a photoresin, ETR uses digital light processing (DLP) for curing, Reagan said. No specific brand printers are required to use ETR, though the material must be bombarded with 385 nanometers of light to cure properly. And ETR can be used either in top-down or bottom-up printing.

"Elastic ToughRubber is not just designed for end parts and products. It is already proven, and it is being used today to manufacture and sell consumer products," said Kial Gramley, vice president of sales and marketing. "Ultimately, we believe that the shoe industry is the perfect place for this material, and we are ready to scale up production in 2020."

Adaptive3D said it has faced challenges attempting to additively manufacture materials with rubber and polyurethane-like performance.

Fused filament fabrication and laser sintering—often using powders as the additive material—traditionally result in prototype parts, according to Adaptive3D.

Other types of 3D printing, such as DLP and stereolithography, can use underperforming additive materials or require post-process heating and compression to form a "support network" to displace the weaker initial print, Reagan said.

"Elastic ToughRubber 90 is a tough printable elastomer for all seasons," Voit said.

Reducing a stigma

Reagan said Adaptive3D is looking to buck the notion that 3D printed products somehow need altered or produced with a different material before transitioning to end-use applications.

As such, Adpative3D said it prides itself on designing additive materials that are high quality enough for end uses, but repeatable and efficient enough for high-volume manufacturing.

"Developing strategic partnerships is key for us," Reagan said. "We're trying to remove the stigma of a customer finding us for a prototype then changing the material for the final product. Some of our partners and investors focus heavily on the processing side, and we want to put pressure on the processing and equipment side. We talk to the specialists and let them run our materials. Our stuff is high quality, and we want it to look good."

Reagan said Adaptive3D seeks out quality polyurethanes, silicones and nylons that can serve as materials for functional, end-use parts.

"I think one of our biggest, well thought-out placements is that we are an open source company," he said. "People are unhappy when they buy a decent high-end printer, then pair that with sub-par materials—or the opposite, where the materials are high quality but the printer is not. It helps us to stick with open source materials."

Adaptive3D focuses exclusively in the additive manufacturing realm, with a team comprising material designers and chemists. "Close to 99 percent" of its products are 3D printable, Reagan said. "It is ideal to print a shoe or a shoe product in high volume, where the customer doesn't have to say, 'Wait, we need a new material.' "

And it's why Adaptive3D strives for such strategic partnerships with customers who want to keep the printed material for the high-volume end product.

"And that's helping a lot," Reagan said.

Regulatory markets in 3D printing

The regulatory landscape for additive material developers in 3D printing can be brutal, according to Reagan.

"On the medical side, for instance, FDA regulations require ridiculous amounts of time and capital," he said. "We try to dodge those issues as best we can. Right now, we just make additive materials used in medical and surgical models for surgeons to train on—these are not products that are going in to a human body."

By staying away from end-use products that require regulatory sign-offs and certifications, Adaptive3D is able to keep its development costs down.

This philosophy also develops trust with those specialists who work with Adaptive3D's materials, and allows "the experts" to handle such regulatory issues themselves.

"If a product requires a fire safety rating, for instance, maybe it goes in an airplane," Reagan said. "Rather than design a material that is fire retardant, we will have a specialist add their fire retardant coatings to the product. In this way we are able to stay away from the regulatory markets."

Founded in 2014 by Voit, an inventor himself, Adaptive3D's customers include such Fortune 500 companies as Halliburton Co. and Honeywell International Inc. Some of Adaptive3D's patents have been made possible with funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.