3D printing has witnessed significant advancement over the last couple years. Now we can print bigger, faster, and with a much wider choice of materials. However, one challenge still remains unsolved even today, that is, the surface quality of 3D printed parts.
Let’s check out how GIZMODO puts it:
"People hear you can print in plastic, so they visualise a plastic item. This is likely to be gloss and smooth. They don’t visualise a matte finish with rough layer lines all over...You can also post-process parts, but this generally involves labour and/or chemicals like acetone (really nasty stuff)”
- Why 3D Printing is Overhyped (http://tiny.cc/1mfv4x)
At Polymaker we always want to make 3D printing more useful; we want to see 3D printing in real-world applications rather than being used just to print useless trinkets. This has always been our core mission. We, therefore, challenged ourselves to solve this difficult problem. Today we are here with an affirmative answer. We are excited to introduce to you our latest innovation – PolySmooth PVB and Polysher – an entirely new solution to dramatically improve the surface quality of 3D printed parts.
Below are some quick examples of what you can get from this technology.(Everything shown was printed via extrusion-based FDM/FFF 3D printing with PolySmooth and post-processed using the Polysher, with no further treatment.)
Below is a polished engineering part:
Update - the new Transparent PolySmooth!
Please view project update #8 for more details!
The core of the technology is the material - PolySmooth, which gives excellent printing characteristics, balanced mechanical properties, and most importantly, “polishability” when exposed to common alcohols such as isopropyl alcohol or ethanol. The polishing process involves exposing a 3D printed part of PolySmooth to an aerosol (a suspension of micro-sized droplets) of alcohol.
The aerosol is generated by a unit called the nebulizer, which consists of a thin membrane with hundreds of tiny (< 10 microns) holes, attached to a piezoelectric actuator. When actuated, the nebulizer will generate a fine aerosol of micro-sized alcohol droplets, which will then adsorb onto the surface of the 3D printed part and eventually make it smooth. Everything is done seamlessly and effortlessly in the Polysher.
Photo of the nebulizer:
PVB stands for poly(vinyl butyral) and is the base material for PolySmooth. It is formulated by Polymaker’s experienced engineers to offer excellent printing quality, balanced mechanical properties, and, most importantly, the “smoothability”. The basic printing characteristics of PolySmooth are designed to be very similar to PLA – so it is 100% compatible with existing extrusion-based (FDM/FFF) 3D printers and extremely easy to work with.
Typical printing conditions:
- Nozzle temperature: 190-210 ˚C
- Build surface: adheres well to common build surfaces including the blue tape, BuildTak, polyimide/Kapton tape, etc.
- Heated bed: not required, but can be set to 60-70 ˚C for better consistency
- Layer adhesion and warping resistance: similar to PLA; you can easily print large parts without warping and/or delamination.
- Odor: minimal (barely noticeable)
Mechanical/thermal properties of PolySmooth (based on 3D printed parts with 100% infill):
- Tensile strength: 40-45 MPa (compared to 30-40 MPa for PLA/ABS)
- IZOD Impact Strength: 15-18 kJ/m^2 (compared to 2-3 kJ/m^2 for PLA and 5-15 kJ/m^2 for ABS)
- Softening Temperature: ~ 70 C (compared to 55-60 C for PLA and 90-95 C for ABS)
Below is a quick comparison of PolySmooth to PLA and ABS.
It is worth mentioning that, built on our previous expertise PolySupport, we have optimized PolySmooth to allow easy removal of support, allowing geometries with high level of complexity.
We have created 11 beautiful colors for you to choose from:
In summary, PolySmooth is an excellent 3D printing material on its own! You can rest assured that it will be fully compatible with your printer and generate good and consistent results. Of course now it is time for the added magic – let’s check out the polishing!
We designed the Polysher from scratch, since there had been nothing like this in the market when we started. We went through conception, multiple design iterations, and worked with Pragmatic Designs Inc. and Gyre9 LLC, two US-based product development companies to come to a design that gives an excellent combination of aesthetics, function and reliability.
The Polysher was designed with a methodical approach from the electronics to the bolts used, each part was carefully designed and chosen.
With over 40 parts, our designers made sure nothing was overlooked ensuring accurate designs and well thought out manufacturing.
We used 3D printing extensively to create prototypes in various stages. Below you can see the evolution of the various prototypes:
The core component of the Polysher, the nebulizer, has also undergone multiple design iterations. The final design features a minimal size, and can be simply "clicked on". The photo below shows (from left to right) the 1st, 2nd and 3rd (final) generations of the nebulizer.
A schematic diagram of the Polysher:
It is very simple to operate the Polysher:
- 3D print your part with PolySmooth, just like what you normally do with PLA;
- Place the printed part in the Polysher;
- Set the polishing time by turning the knob; a typical part takes 20 - 40 minutes, depending on the size and environmental temperature;
- Once polishing is finished, the stage will automatically lift up for you to easily get the part.
In addition, the liquid reservoir of the Polysher needs to be filled with alcohol. Suitable alcohols are:
- Isopropyl alcohol (also known as isopropanol)
with concentrations of no less than 70% (90% or higher recommended). You can choose whatever is more easily available for you. More information on the selection of alcohol polishing liquids can be found in the FAQ section.
Below is a video showing you how to operate the Polysher:
The Polysher can polish parts up to a 15 cm * 18 cm (diameter * height) cylinder (the diameter of the plate is 15 cm). Below are some photos/GIFs to show you the before/after results.
The possibilities with PolySmooth and Polysher are endless. Many photos below are from real user cases, which we will share as updates in the upcoming weeks - so stay tuned!
To ensure the delivery of a well-designed, high-quality product, we have worked with a number of partners.
PolySmooth: all the development has been finished and the material is ready for manufacturing at Polymaker’s factory at Suzhou, China.
Polysher: the design has been 80% finished. The remaining work involves small de-bugs and improvements based on prototype testing, and getting the design manufacturing-ready.
We have spent significant effort to reach the current stage, and now it is time for you to help bring this product to life! Our goal is to raise enough fund from KickStarter to partially cover the following expense:
- Manufacturing the first batch of the Polysher (which has to be in the order of several thousand units in order to get a reasonable cost)
- Raw materials for PolySmooth (we have to purchase in bulk in order to get to a reasonable cost)
Updated on May 13, 2016. See Project Update 8 for more details!
Risks and challenges
PolySmooth: with all the development work and Polymaker’s years of experience in high-quality filament production, there is no real risk or challenge with regard to producing PolySmooth. What you can expect is a fabulous new 3D printing material with the level of quality that matches all other Polymaker filaments.
Polysher: since this will be Polymaker’s first hardware product, some challenges are still present.
Nebulizer Life Time. We did notice in our testing that in a small number of cases, the nebulizer power decreases (i.e. the amount of aerosol generated becomes less) after extended use. We are still in the process of finding the variables that can affect the life time of the nebulizer. However we do not envision this to be a large issue, as we will (1) include two nebulizers for each Polysher, so there is always a spare one, and (2) the nebulizer can be easily replaced.
Manufacturing. Polymaker has teamed up with Mascon (www.mascon.com) for the manufacturing of Polysher. Mascon has over 30 years of experience in contract manufacturing, assembly and supply chain management. The manufacturing will be conducted in Mascon's contract factory in Zhejiang, China, with Polymaker engineers actively overseeing the process. We believe this partnership can ensure the delivery of a high-quality product.
Compliance. Since there was nothing similar in the market prior to the Polysher, we had to study almost from scratch the safety and compliance aspects of the product. Our strategy was to involve testing agencies from almost the beginning of the development process. We also benefit from the fact that Julia, the main designer of the Polysher, is an expert in compliance and has over 30 years of experience handling compliance issues with consumer electronics. Our latest prototype (the same one shown in the video) has been tested by TUV (http://www.tuv.com/) - a leading agency for safety and quality testing - and the results are very positive. It was stated in the report that "The equipment has been type-tested for the compliance with the standard requirements and passed all applicable tests". Therefore we envision that the final product will pass all major compliance/safety tests.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)