Desktop Metal has just unveiled FreeFoam, a new family of photopolymer resins that produces durable, and dimensionally accurate, closed-cell foam parts without tooling – delivering never-before-seen benefits for the automotive, furnishing, footwear, sporting goods, health care, and other industries.
FreeFoam, and examples of its application, such as 3D printed automotive seating developed in partnership with Camaco, an engineered seating solutions supplier, will be on display on June 28-30 at Foam Expo North America in Novi, Michigan. Parts made with FreeFoam are already being manufactured in collaboration with leaders in the automotive and furnishing markets, with broad commercial availability of FreeFoam material slated for 2023.
“FreeFoam is one of the most exciting and commercially significant photopolymer solutions to come to market in the industrial printing space in years,” said Ric Fulop, Founder, and CEO of Desktop Metal. “The market for conventionally manufactured foam has many challenges – from expensive molds that limit designs, to dense and heavy foams that absorb water and are expensive to ship and drive, to the inability to easily dial in strength and Shore hardness values in specific foam designs…. We’re especially excited to reveal our FreeFoam innovation in Metro Detroit, where our new foam material can help lightweight cars and trucks while preserving the performance and comfort expected in foam seating. With FreeFoam, Desktop Metal is ready to liberate the foam market from its many challenges.”
FreeFoam was invented and developed by Adaptive3D, a subsidiary of Desktop Metal that was acquired in 2021 and is a leader in premium photopolymer and elastomer development.
FreeFoam resins are 3D printed similarly to other photopolymer resins using DLP. After printing, FreeFoam parts can be expanded on-demand through a brief heating cycle, in an oven, at approximately 160-170°C (320-340°F). The printed parts contain dispersed heat-activated foaming agents that create closed-cell pores inside the material. This highly controllable process causes FreeFoam resins to consistently expand 2 to 7 times their as-printed sizes, depending on the grade of resin, achieving final parts within desired tolerances.
This new process allows 3D printers to produce much larger final foam parts than the printers’ original build areas, and will enable foam products to be shipped at compact sizes and expanded at the final point of assembly or use.
While preliminary specifications for FreeFoam are now available, Desktop Metal plans to offer several grades of FreeFoam resins – enabling different Shore hardness values and other specific materials properties, such as water resistance for the outdoor furnishing market.
FreeFoam is part of the recently launched DuraChain category of one-part, one-pot photopolymers that delivers, breakthrough, tough and elastic material properties through a Photo Polymerization-Induced Phase Separation process. When illuminated during DLP printing, these materials phase separate at the nano level into a material that cures into a resilient, high-performance polymer network. DuraChain enables FreeFoam parts to be expanded, with control, in an oven and without a mold.
Initially, FreeFoam will be 3D printable exclusively on the ETEC Xtreme 8K top-down DLP system from Desktop Metal’s polymer 3D printing brand.