ESTANE® TPU for Fused Filament Fabrication courtesy of colorFabb

Revolutionary filament makes 3D printing of foams a reality

Posted by Lubrizol 3D Printing Team on 08/03/2020

colorFabb expands capabilities of 3D printers 

Living up to its reputation as one of the industry’s true innovators, colorFabb® recently introduced the world’s first commercially available 3D printing foam filament. Developed for use in Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) 3D printers, varioShore TPU filament expands the uses and increases the value of existing equipment by delivering the breakthrough ability to create foams of variable shore hardness, as its name suggests. Armed with this exciting new material, users can quickly and easily experiment with various densities of foam to create the shore hardness that is most ideal for their application.

A product of innovation and collaboration

In its quest to develop a filament with groundbreaking foaming capabilities, colorFabb experimented with numerous TPUs in search of one solution that would produce the greatest variability in shore hardness, while also working in the widest variety of current 3D printers. Not surprisingly, Lubrizol, the inventor of the world’s first TPU, supplied the answer. With more than 1500 types of TPUs in its arsenal designed for different forms of manufacturing, Lubrizol provided a range of TPUs that had the performance characteristics specified by colorFabb team. Working collaboratively, with colorFabb handling the production of various 3D prints and Lubrizol conducting all the critical testing and validation, the two companies showed what is possible when manufacturers and specialty solution providers harness one another’s strengths to meet market demands. 

varioShore TPU epitomizes user-friendliness

Merely adjusting the temperature and material throughput (speed and layer height) of varioShore TPU can create foam objects with hardness ranging from 90A to 60A.  At temperatures between 200° and 250°C, the material will expand to roughly 1.4 to 1.6 times its original volume. At this temperature, slowing the throughput rate to 60-70% allows a high degree of active foaming to occur, producing very soft printed parts. However, using this same speed setting but lowering the temperature to 190°-200°C, the material prints without foaming to create entirely different haptics and harder prints. Remarkably, this innovation even makes it possible to create variable foam densities within a single print.   

The “wow factor” of varioShore is in its haptics

Touching an item created by a 3D printer with varioShore TPU is the only way to fully appreciate just how large a leap forward this technology has made. A 3D printed bicycle 
handlebar grip is an item the colorFabb team sometimes presents for a hands-on demonstration that communicates a primary benefit that would be impossible to fully convey in a brochure. The soft, non-slick, non-sticky surface is unlike anything customers are accustomed to holding that was produced by a 3D printer.

While the distinctive haptics of varioShore TPU make it suitable for any number of applications, it’s been especially exciting for manufacturers of prosthetic devices. The combination of comfort, performance and design flexibility makes this new colorFabb filament the ideal choice for creating the interfaces required between patients and their prosthetic devices. In fact, it’s this ability to achieve just the right feel, fit, and functionality that is also making varioShore TPU filament the material of choice in the current fight against COVID-19, where users around the world are employing their 3D printers to help produce face shields needed for medical personnel.

The future of FFF foams 

Providing the ability to create foams of lighter weight and density without the upfront costs and complexity of making molds, varioShore TPU opens up a range of possibilities for all types of 3D printer users. From mass market applications such as footwear insoles to the more niche needs of model airplane enthusiasts, varioShore TPU delivers the versatility to meet the increasingly diverse demands of a world still uncovering the many benefits 3D printing.  

On the immediate horizon

In anticipation of emerging opportunities, colorFabb and Lubrizol are exploring the limits of the varioShore concept and foresee a 3D-printing insole revolution on the horizon with plans to launch SOLE PodoPrinter in October 2020. “Our new SOLE PodoPrinter exceeds all our expectations on weight, strength and durability,” reports Stephan Schürmann, lead inventor at PodoPrinter BV. Utilizing a unique varioShore TPU filament developed to meet the application requirements for insoles, Schürmann designed a solution that requires no 3D-printing knowledge or experience from the end-user. “It’s going to rock the orthopedic and podiatric industry,” Schürmann exclaims. As insole manufacturers excitedly make plans to scale up production, colorFabb continues to study other applications that would benefit from this highly adaptable technology.




Lubrizol 3D Printing Team

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