Printing with flexible filament can open up countless possibilities and opportunities for creative and functional manufacturing. Harnessing these capabilities does not come without effort.
However, MakeShaper, a filament manufacturer in Sanford, North Carolina, has cracked the code for a premium, FDA-compliant, flexible filament that is also easy to use.
“We were approached by a business experiencing problems implementing flexible 3D printing into their product development environment that was also FDA-compliant for a wearable device,” said Erica Edwards, the company’s sales manager. “They had specific needs and were not able to meet product expectations. They were experienced with FDM manufacturing and were already set up with their printers of choice. However, they were unsatisfied with the results they were achieving while testing the current offering of flexible filaments.”
Flexible filament has proven to be a tricky material for many. It is prone to issues related to feeding the filament through the printer. Even printer designs that overcome feed issues can oftentimes produce stringy, unusable prints depending on the specific properties of the filament in use.
The MakeShaper team got to work to develop a solution that could meet the needs of the client, focused on a newly formulated TPU flexible filament. Up until that point, MakeShaper was best known for being the only manufacturer to offer alternative cartridges for Cube2, CubePro and CubeX printers, along with their line of premium ABS and PLA filaments.
MakeShaper is a subsidiary of Static Control Components, the largest supplier and manufacturer for the 2D printing aftermarket industry. This connection gives the MakeShaper team a deep history of working within a market to develop timely solutions as well as access to Static Control’s expansive research and development facilities. MakeShaper engineers were eager to create a new, premium flexible filament.
“We assessed the situation and the market as a whole,” said Edwards. “We fine-tuned the material properties of our filament formulation and in the process, also upgraded the capabilities of the printers being used.”
“After it passed our quality standards, we knew we had something that should be shared with others who have struggled with flexible printing,” she said. “We want to bring what we have developed to a wider audience and are releasing TPU 85A flexible filaments.”
MakeShaper’s flexible filament offers some unique qualities unseen in other offerings. The filament is FDA-compliant for direct food contact, along with having Pantone-matched color selections. The colorants are UV-stable and colorfast, meaning the color will not fade from the end product over time.
The Shore Hardness of the filament is 85A – roughly the flexibility of shoe soles. The rubbery filament exhibits a slight sheen, meets exacting standards for consistent diameter/ovality and builds prints that are true to design.
Edwards also noted that the holistic approach to engineering a solution led to them developing a printer adaptor to help select printers to better utilize flexible filaments.
“We noticed that some printer manufacturers do not recommend using flexible filament because of the material buckling when the filament is pushed through a hot extruder,” said Edwards. “The adaptor modifies the filament feed mechanism and allows printers to easily use flexible filaments with no problems.”
After the adaptor was prototyped, MakeShaper reached out to numerous 3D printer manufacturers to discuss the opportunities an adaptor could provide. With the positive response, a wave of solutions will be released soon for multiple printers.
“This adaptor makes it easier to work with flexible filament and also works with the more common harder plastic filaments, such as ABS and PLA,” said Stephen Daniels, an engineer with MakeShaper. “Before the adaptor, threading flexible filament was like trying to push a rope up a hill in a pipe with no kinks. Not an easy task!”
The adaptor for Fusion F306 printers is currently available and adaptors for MakerBot Replicator/Replicator 2, Zortrax M200, Ultimaker 2+ and Cube2 will be released soon.
And as for the business that sparked the move into flexible filament?
“Ultimately, the business was able to use our flexible filament and get the quality builds they had initially expected,” said a pleased Edwards.
Flexible filament is available on 220g, 650g and 1kg spools in black and natural. Other colors will be released throughout the summer. Larger spools up to 30kg are available by special order.
“We are always open to working with a client to provide market solutions,” Edwards noted. “If you are seeking a filament manufacturing partner or just need some great filament – contact MakeShaper.”
by Shannon Parrish
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