While the burgeoning consumer 3D printer market saturates with increasingly sophisticated devices, Chinese company Polymakr has chosen a different route to additive manufacturing innovation. This week, it launched a Kickstarter campaign to put three brand new filaments into production that, if successful, could massively extend the types of objects that can be created on consumer-level machines.
Currently, the two most popular consumer filaments are PLA and ABS. Though both have their strengths, they also come with their fair share of limitations, as detailed in our quick guide to 3D printer filaments.
Polymakr’s three new materials are made of re-engineered plastic as opposed to the regular plastic of which ABS and PLA are composed. According to Polymakr, this opens up the door to a whole new level of versatility, flexibility and choice for the end user.
Could this be the killer breakthrough that finally make 3D printing the mainstream technology it has threatened to become for the last two years? Let’s take a closer look at what Polymakr is promising.
Traditional PLA has the advantage of being non-toxic, biodegradable and, relatively, pleasant smelling when compared to the more durable ABS. Yet it also comes with a massive drawback: it tends to splinter and snap under even light pressure.
PolyMax PLA has been designed to answer this problem while still retaining the many benefits of PLA. It has been reengineered to lend it a high mechanical strength, a move that, Polymakr claims, not only gives it an impact strength 8 times higher than PLA but makes it even more robust than ABS. Plus it’s non-toxic and unlikely to warp when printing larger objects.
If this is true, it could quickly become the most popular consumer filament available.
PolyFlex is a flexible material that has been designed for printer compatibility. While PolyMakr admits there are lots of flexible filaments already on the market, it also points out that many of them are specific to a single device or extruder type. Polyflex, on the other hand, will be printable on a huge list of desktop printers, including the MakerBot Replicator 2 and 2X, the RepRap Prusa Mendel, Ultimaker and many more.
Also, unlike other soft materials, PolyFlex can print at relatively high speeds, up to 60 – 90 mm per minute according to the Kickstarter page.
PolyWood is a wood mimic material, which has the advantage of having no actual wood in it. Instead it is PLA-based, using a foaming technology that allows air bubbles to build up inside the print. This gives the object a consistently porous structure all the way through, while the outside is left with a rough, raw, wood-like surface.
As well as printing objects with the superficial appearance of wood, PolyWood will also be useful for objects used for heat and audio insulation or anti-vibration tools.
With 25 days left to run in its Kickstarter campaign, Polymakr has already smashed its $25,000 target, racking up $29,239 from 306 backers. For those interested, a pledge of $24 will get you a pound of PolyMax PLA, while $30 gets you a pound of either PolyFlex or PolyWood.
It’s a relatively low risk venture, as all the research and development is already in the can. What PolyMakr now needs is the capital to purchase a large amount of raw material and the manufacturing equipment to produce a large quantity of filament.