The inputs that fuel additive manufacturing are constantly evolving. This is especially true in the material space, where material providers are always improving and adapting to meet manufacturer needs. Today, there are many additive materials on the market that meet production-grade requirements for opaque, plastic-like parts, but one question that we at Fast Radius often hear from engineers is: Can I produce a 3D part using clear resin?
After all, there are quite a few applications that would benefit from a clear build, such as light pipes - which have broad applications in consumer electronics, dental surgery applications, microfluidic devices, and more. Some SLA printers have resin offerings that enable clear prints - but print time, quality, and the labor-intensive finishing process prevents it from being a full-scale production option. Because of this, clear prints are currently considered cost-prohibitive and have a limited set of applications. Driven by our guiding principle to "make new things possible", the team here at Fast Radius set out to see how we could more efficiently make production-grade clear components using our Carbon® 3D printers.
To do this, we experimented with a range of light pipe designs printed using VeriGuide generative resin, which is developed by Whip Mix. Though it is typically used to create guides for drilling dental implants, we wanted to explore VeriGuide as a material for producing light pipes, which have a broader market application. Our team is still testing this potential, but we wanted to share some steps and takeaways as we continue expanding our capabilities.
Phase 1: Start with a small application
In order to run our first experiments, we created a small set of windows that wouldn't use a large amount of resin or generate a high manufacturing cost. Early experiments focused on the orientation of the windows and the ability to maintain clarity at different levels of thickness. The goal was to determine the windows’ behavior on the build plate. For example, windows were printed flat on the build plate, standing up on the build plate, and at a 45-degree angle with windows of varying thickness printed in each orientation. Over the course of these first experiments, 18 windows were created with 27 total successful components printed overall.
Phase 2: Optimize post processing
Once the samples were created, the next step was to dial in our post-processing methodology. In clear plastic parts, the biggest obstacle to clarity is surface roughness. VeriGuide parts naturally have small irregularities in their surface which are exposed when the part is washed. By experimenting with various methods of washing, curing, and post processing, we were able to minimize this effect and create a clear polished surface on our parts.
Phase 3: Building the light pipe
After many rounds of testing and analysis, we started working to apply our findings to light pipe applications. By creating small cylinders that were placed over LED lights, we were able to assess the material’s performance as a light guide. Some of the properties we examined include the ability to transfer light, the overall quality of transferred light, and the effect of different finishing methods on light diffusion. Longer light pipes were then created and tested to examine the limits of light projection and the loss of intensity across longer distances. At that point we felt comfortable moving forward with select production opportunities as we begin offering Whipmix clear resins to our customers.
What did we learn?
So, can you produce a 3D printed part using clear resin? The short answer is it appears that yes, you can - but there is still a lot of testing and verification to do. While this project is still in its experimental stage, we have discovered that VeriGuide has great potential on Carbon® machines - but it depends on the application’s end use. In the instance of our light pipes test, we found that when these parts were produced using clear resin on additive technology, there was high potential for production in low quantities, although more testing should be done on performance over time. Fast Radius has already completed a successful project using this process and plans on exploring other applications as we continue to expand our capabilities.
Innovation is encoded in Fast Radius’s DNA. We are always searching for new opportunities for our clients and discovering new services that we can provide. Clear resin production continues to expand, and our research moves forward with the goal of delivering our customers products at the cutting edge of manufacturing. Discovering new applications are just some of the services that we can provide. If you want to learn more about Fast Radius’s capabilities, or are interested in using clear resin in your next project, please contact our team today.