BigRep has taken an interesting step by introducing a flexible material.
The TPU-based material is called “PRO-FLEX” and is an engineering grade material. The company says they’ve composed the material in such a way as to optimize its use on their gigantic 1mm nozzle present on their large-format 3D printers.
This is quite an accomplishment, as TPU / flexible filaments are notoriously challenging to 3D print on almost every 3D printer, large or small.
However, it seems that due to their partnership with BASF, they were able to concoct a suitable mix for this filament offering. I suspect it won’t be the last unusual material offered by BigRep as we learned they’ve provided BASF with a BigRep ONE large format 3D printer for their own experimentation. BASF chemical engineers can then do iterative testing onsite to hone in on the best formulations.
Does it work? We examined a sample print, where BigRep had printed a flexible TPU layer and pasted some rigid stuff on top. Yes, it flexed very well.
BigRep is aware that printing flexible materials is quite challenging, saying this:
BigRep does advise that customers should be experienced in handling extrusion of flexible materials, as they can be more challenging than most. To help guide customers, BigRep will provide a guidance document for using the PRO Flex filament, and as part of the BigRep 360-degree service, customer service technicians are also on hand to assist with your printing needs.
What’s of interest to me is that just as large format 3D printing opened up a number of interesting applications in industry, so too with the introduction of flexible materials. What large, flexible objects might be created.
One example created by BigRep is a curious airless bicycle tire, shown in this video:
There we have an entirely new application, where you might design different types of tire internal structures to match surface and/or weather conditions. And they never go flat.
BigRep believes this material will have considerable pick up in the automotive industry, where “it enables prototyping for gear knobs, door handles, cable sheathing and more.”
I’m hoping for some very unusual prototypes and eventually products from this material.