In this guest post, Sinterit‘s Michał Krzak goes over the benefits and applications of 3D printing with TPE powder.
What is TPE powder?
TPE stands for thermoplastic elastomer, and it is available in powder form for SLS 3D printing. It offers benefits that are typical for both plastic and rubber.
- On the one hand, TPE is elastic, with an elongation at break of 196[%], which is quite a bit higher than what PA (Nylon) materials offer.
- On the other hand, you can coat a TPE print with a special sealer to make it watertight and airtight.
TPE can be compared to vulcanized rubber. The latter is durable and, at the same time, susceptible to elastic deformation.
However, unlike rubber, TPE can be used in additive manufacturing, which makes it ideal for footwear prototypes, hoses, and tubes. What’s more, TPE powder from Sinterit is compatible with human skin. Hence, this opens up possibilities for applications requiring skin testing.
Benefits of TPE powder for SLS 3D printing
Wide range of use
From mechanical covers to shock absorbers, there are endless possibilities for TPE. TPE boasts interesting properties, such as being soft and flexible all while being strong.
Softness and flexibility
Due to its soft feel, manufacturers use TPE in consumer products for elements that must be comfortable to hold (e.g. hairbrush).
Just one step away is the fashion industry, which has been flirting with 3D printing for a while now with 3D printed dresses and shoes. Up until recently, it was doomed to using exclusively rigid materials. It’s now possible to print flexible elements that are durable enough for use in footwear design or in stage costumes, for example.
Note that TPE elements are water resistant but not waterproof. Nonetheless, there is a solution for prints that need to be in contact with water for a longer period – you just need to coat the object with a special sealer.
TPE is a strong, dense, and elastic material which means more potential applications for various industries.
Let’s think about more usages. Any final part that needs to be impact- or vibration-resistant could be easily printed with TPE.
A great example would be dampeners, which in addition to being resistant, need to be anti-slip. This feature is also essential for the automotive industry, for applications such as anti-skid pads, cup holders, doors, and window seals or knobs.
For household applications, TPE is useful for toothbrush or shaver handles, sanitary seals, furniture handles, and more. It is also frequently used in electronic goods like mobile phone housing and power tool handles, switches, wires, and all other types of elastic casings.
When should you consider using TPE powder?
Rigid materials, like PA12 and PA11 (nylons), are great for producing a lot of different designs and prototypes. But sometimes you’ll need something with a little more elasticity, without losing in durability.
By using TPE, you have the ability to stretch your print out to moderate elongation and, when you stop stretching the print, it can return to its original shape. This is especially important when creating elements with a longer life cycle.
TPE is similar to rubber material (like a micronized rubber powder), but it can actually work in hostile, dusty environments.