There’s been great interest in 3D printable soluble support material in recent years, and for good reason.
With a dual extrusion filament 3D printer, one can easily 3D print highly complex objects almost without regard to geometry concerns and be assured you get a good print. There might be a lot of support material involved, but it is simply dissolved away, often without any labor from the 3D printer operator.
Hygroscopic Support Materials
But there is a problem with almost all soluble support filaments: they are notably hygroscopic.
This means they tend to absorb water from the air, and this absorbed water can corrupt the filaments quality. Absorbed water boils out during hot extrusion, creating bubbles and gaps in 3D prints, usually ruining part strength and surface quality.
This can mean that the support structure may not properly support the object, and that’s not good because that was the point of using the usually expensive soluble support material.
VXL Soluble Support
Now there is another soluble support option from BellandTechnology AG under their VXL brand. BellandTechnology AG is a small chemical company that launched in 2008, specializing in thermoplastic polymers that have controlled water solubility.
Their VXL soluble support material products are non-hygroscopic soluble support filaments. They explain:
“The materials are not another PVA/PVOH/BVOH-type. Compared to these solely water soluble support materials, our materials are soluble in a mild alkaline solution. Thus, they are less sensitive to moisture, have increased shelf life and consistent print quality over time. This avoids failed prints through clogged nozzles. Our materials have high melt stability and strong adhesion to model materials like PEEK, PA, PC, ABS/PC, TPE, ASA, ABS or PET.”
There are three variations of the material: VXL 90, VXL 111 and VXL 130. The number indicates the glass transition temperature of the filament. So for lower temperature applications, you would use VXL 90. But for higher temperature materials, including PEEK, you could use VXL 130, as long as the build chamber temperature is lower than that.
However, at this time only VXL 111 is available, with the other two “coming soon”. The products can be used in any filament-powered 3D printer, although the company is targeting industrial users, at least initially.
For these materials you will require a cleaning tank for best results, as the eco-friendly alkaline solution is best applied using a cleaning system. BellandTechnology AG recommends several options from different vendors.
In addition to the soluble support materials, the VXL brand also includes a washing some specialized ABS variants, and a dry box for the filaments they call the “EX Siccator”. What a great product name!
If you’re 3D printing with soluble support, you might want to check out the VXL solutions.