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igus claims to have developed the first tribo-optimized filament for 3D printers. The material is up to 50 times more abrasion-resistant than conventional 3D printer materials. (Click the arrow at top right of image to view more images.)

igus develops 3D-printable bearing material with low-friction properties

igus has developed what it claims is the world’s first tribologically enhanced plastic filament for 3D printers, which are used to print full-size, three-dimensional objects. Specifically created for motion control applications, the low-friction material is 50 times more resistant to wear and abrasion than conventional 3D printer materials, according to the German plastics company.

“The material was developed using igus’s decades of tribo-polymer research and development, as well as experience in thorough material testing,” Nicole Lang, Product Manager for iglide bearings, shared with SAE Magazines via email, noting that the chemistry behind the new product is proprietary. “[I] can say that the low-friction properties are the same as other iglide materials, using tiny particles of solid lubricant embedded in microscopic chambers in the plastic material.”

The filament is not only suitable for creating custom bearings, but other parts as well. “Anything,” Lang said when asked what those other products are.

igus now has two tribo-filament materials becoming available; the first is iglide I 170-PF, and the newest addition is I 180-PF. “The I 170 is more brittle than the I 180, but I 170 has better wear rates overall,” Lang noted.

The company also offers access to 3D models of products in STL format, which can be downloaded and used directly as input data for 3D printing.

Researchers at igus began exploring filaments for 3D printers to offer customers more flexibility in their product designs—for example, designing various custom parts or manufacturing prototypes more quickly and cost-effectively. 3D printing promises to reduce the tooling costs of part production, and it eliminates waste by only printing the desired object, resulting in additional cost savings.

“igus has its own chemical specialist focused entirely on the 3D printing industry,” according to Lang. (The specialist actually built the delta 3D printer pictured above.) “igus has more than 40 years of materials research and testing under their belts before venturing into the 3D industry.”

A specific development timeline was not available; however, the company was founded in 1964, so its experts likely began work on 3D printer materials sometime in the mid to late 2000s.

The tribo-filaments have already completed “countless tests” at the igus test laboratory in Cologne, Germany. These included a multitude of wear tests, both torsional and linear, as well as testing for temperature rating, printing speed, and filament feeding.

“Custom bearings created with the iglide tribo-filament can be used in any application,” Lang noted. “The limitations are only marked by the abilities of 3D printers at this time. At the moment, printed components are not as perfect as molded parts, but the material is intended to be used as any other iglide bearing, which are used in a vast range of industries,” including the aerospace, automotive, and off-highway industries.

The filament will be produced with spool diameters of 1.75 and 3.00 mm (0.07 and 0.12 in), at a mass of 250 g (8.8 oz) per spool. Starter kits with approximately 25 g (0.9 oz) of material—“enough to print at least one moderately sized component,” according to Lang—will be available for initial trials.

igus Inc. (USA), based in East Providence, RI, is currently filling pre-orders, Lang noted. “We hope to have the filament available for full release by the end of the summer.”

The company eventually plans to expand the range of 3D filament materials, based on solutions for customer problems.

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