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Making complex silicone parts by 3-D printing

By Gerald Ondrey |

The field of additive manufacturing (AM) — often referred to as 3-D printing — has seen explosive growth in recent years (Chem. Eng., February 2015, pp. 20–23; www.chemengonline.com/3-d-printing-accelerates-creating-cpi-opportunities). In AM, no tools or molds are required to shape the desired part; instead, the workpiece is built up in successive layers. While the technology has evolved over the last 25 years, the main materials used have been photopolymers and thermoplastics, says Bernd Pachaly, vice president, Innovation Silicones at Wacker Silicones (Berghausen, Germany; www.wacker.com). “Up to now, there is no full-stop [3-D printing] technology for elastomers, and in particular, silicones,” he says. Because of silicones unique properties, such as thermal resistance, flexibility (also at low temperatures), transparency, biocompatibility and more, Wacker — together with a local prototyping specialist — began a development project for silicone 3-D printing in the second quarter of 2014, taking a holistic approach to develop material, hardware and software. This year, Wacker plans to commercialize its 3-D technology under the tradename, ACEO. The company already has second-generation prototype systems capable of “printing”…
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