Rubber and rubber-like materials are everywhere in modern industry. Soft materials like latex, silicone, and thermoplastic elastomer are useful in applications that demand flexibility and durability for industrial parts and consumer goods alike.
While rubber manufacturing has historically been the domain of casting and injection molding, modern advances in 3D printers and 3D printed materials have made additive manufacturing the ideal solution for producing small to medium quantities of rubber-like parts.
Our 3D printed rubber services can manufacture high-quality rubber-like parts in as few as two days―all you need is a 3D model! Start your project by getting a quote or keep reading to learn more.
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3D printed rubber parts can be used in place of molded rubber for just about any application. Like other methods of 3D printing, rubber prints accurately produce complex internal geometries like lattices and tubes at no extra cost, easily achieving designs that would be impossible with other types of manufacturing.
And because 3D printing doesn’t require any costly molds or tooling, 3D printed rubber parts can be manufactured in just a few days compared to multiple weeks of lead time for injection molding. This combination of high agility and no start-up costs allows rubber 3D printing to excel for both prototyping and small- to medium-sized production runs.
3D printed rubber is ideal for:
Traditionally, rubber manufacturing has required injection molding, casting, or sheet lamination. Rubber-like materials are far too soft to machine, and 3D printing was restricted to harder plastics for most of its development. Now, new developments in 3D printers and materials have opened up a wide range of new possibilities for 3D printed rubber products. So how does 3D printing compare to casting or injection molding for manufacturing rubber?
Injection molding requires machined metal molds that cost tens of thousands of dollars and take months to produce. Any design changes require new tools, making adjustments extremely expensive and time-consuming.
In contrast, 3D printing requires no tooling or other setup costs and can begin production immediately. This leads to parts that can be manufactured in as little as one day and much greater affordability at low quantities, making 3D printing Moreover, design changes are easy and can be executed at no additional cost.
When it comes to product development, 3D printed rubber is a godsend. Even under the most ideal conditions, traditional technologies take weeks of lead time and tens of thousands of dollars for each new design.
Because 3D printing doesn’t require any tooling or setup, 3D printed parts can quickly be designed and redesigned at no additional cost. This agility has made 3D printing an indispensable part of prototyping and product development.
As a result of these differences in lead times and setup costs, 3D printing is much more economical for small- to medium-volume production, while casting and injection molding provide greater value for productions of 1000 parts or more.
Although metal molds are expensive, molded parts become very cheap to produce once the tooling is made. When those initial costs are spread out over thousands of parts, individual part costs plummet, making injection molding the least expensive technology around for high-volume manufacturing.
3D printing, on the other hand, generally stops providing additional per part savings once part quantities exceed the capacity of a single machine. As a result, 3D printing has a much flatter cost curve that makes it a great option for small to medium quantities but significantly less economical for large production runs.
Rubber 3D printing can easily achieve complicated designs that would simply not be possible with other manufacturing technologies. From interior cavities and lattices to variable wall thicknesses, organic shapes and built-in hoses—all of which are difficult or impossible to create with injection molding—3D printed rubber parts unlock endless new design options. You can even combine multi-part assemblies into single pieces, saving costs and improving functionality.
Plus, 3D printed parts can be highly customized, down to single parts at a time, without additional costs. This is especially useful for industries like medicine or athletics that have a high demand for products customized to each individual user. Needless to say, this would be extraordinarily expensive with casting or injection molding.
To learn more about the unique design capabilities of 3D printing, check out our Design for Additive Manufacturing (DfAM) Guide.
Is It Really Rubber?
3D Printed Rubber Materials
The answer to whether 3D printed rubber is really rubber depends who you ask. There are a lot of materials that are referred to as rubber: thermoplastic polyurethane, thermoplastic elastomer, silicone, and, of course, natural rubber!
Natural rubber, also known as latex, cannot be liquefied and re-solidified in the manner required by 3D printers. However, thermoplastic elastomers can achieve similar levels of flexibility and softness to rubber and have the thermal properties necessary for 3D printing.
The most effective rubber-like materials for 3D printing are thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) and thermoplastic elastomer (TPE). It’s important to note, however, that both TPU and TPE refer to multiple materials. In fact, TPU is really a type of TPE―distinguished by its use of polyurethane and increased hardness.
Thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) is valued by engineers for its flexibility and strength. It’s in mass production consumer products ranging from automobiles to tennis shoes. Not only does TPU’s hardness (Shore 85A to 95A) make it easy to manufacture, but it also provides higher abrasion, chemical and thermal resistance. Moreover, its resistance to oil and grease makes it a great fit for hoses, gaskets and seals. While not as soft as natural rubber, printed TPU can achieve thinner walls than molded parts (0.5mm or 0.020″) to create a similar level of flexibility.
TPU can be 3D printed with Multi Jet Fusion and is widely used in transportation, medicine, home goods, footwear and apparel, heavy industrial, consumer electronics, and more.
Multi Jet Fusion 3D printing is the fastest, most affordable, and most effective option for most 3D printing projects. It is also the newest printing technology to allow rubber printing, with TPU01 options available in black or gray.
MJF prints combine industrial strength, accurate fine details and a high-quality finish to create parts that are equally suited to industrial parts and commercial products. With lead times as little as one day, MJF is the premier printing option for prototypes and small- to medium-sized production runs.
If you need rubber manufacturing for your business, RapidMade can help you take your projects from 3D models to high-quality 3D printed rubber parts in as few as two days. When you work with RapidMade, you get a team of 3D printed experts dedicated to helping you succeed.
Learn more about our 3D Printing Services and get started today by requesting a quote. We’ll review your project and get back to you within one day!