Vapour smoothing in 3D printing

Vapour Smoothing 3D Print

What is vapour smoothing, and how is it applied to 3D printing?

Vapour smoothing is a revolutionary new technology in professional 3D printing, designed to improve printed parts’ quality and aesthetics significantly.

What is vapour smoothing?

Vapour smoothing is a post-printing process that uses vapours from a specific solvent to smooth the surface of 3D-printed parts. This method produces exceptionally smooth surfaces by eliminating the layer lines typical of 3D printing, enhancing the parts’ aesthetic appearance and mechanical properties. The solvent, often acetone for polymers like ABS or other solvents for TPU and PA12, is heated until it generates vapours that effectively smooth them upon contact with the printed parts.

How vapour smoothing works in 3D printing

The vapour smoothing process is based on the chemical interaction between the solvent vapours and the surfaces of 3D-printed parts. When the solvent atoms come into contact with the material to be treated, they slightly “dissolve” the surface, allowing the polymer molecules to reorganize, resulting in a smooth and homogeneous surface finish. The solvent then evaporates, leaving behind a sealed and smoothed surface.

The vapour smoothing process is applied to 3D-printed parts.

Applying vapour smoothing to 3D-printed parts begins with preparing the parts and selecting a solvent suitable for the printing material. The fabricated parts are then exposed to the vapours in a closed chamber. The exposure time varies depending on the material and the desired level of finish. After treatment, the parts are left to dry to allow the solvent vapours to dissipate completely, ensuring that all treated surfaces are perfectly smooth.

What impact does vapour smoothing have on surface finish?

Effects of vapour smoothing on the mechanical properties of parts

Vapour smoothing enhances the aesthetics of 3D-printed parts by improving the surface finish and making the surface smooth and uniform. It can also positively impact the mechanical properties. Vapour smoothing can help to seal surface microcracks, thereby increasing the mechanical strength of the treated parts. This process can be particularly advantageous for applications requiring parts with greater structural integrity.

Comparison between vapour smoothing and traditional finishing

Vapour smoothing offers several advantages over traditional surface finishing methods, such as manual sanding or treatment with fillers and paints. Firstly, vapour smoothing can effectively treat all surfaces of a part, even those that are difficult to reach, ensuring a uniform finish on the entire part. Additionally, it significantly reduces post-processing times, making the process more efficient and less labour-intensive.

There are several reasons why vapour smoothing provides significantly better fluid-tightness compared to untreated PA12:

  1. Reduction of Porosity: Due to material layering, 3D-printed parts often exhibit some porosity. These small spaces can allow fluid passage. Vapour smoothing fuses these layers, closing the pores and making the surface more homogeneous and less permeable to fluids.
  2. Smoother Surface: A smooth surface is less likely to retain minor defects and microcracks that allow fluid passage. Vapor smoothing creates a much smoother surface finish compared to untreated PA12, thus improving its impermeability.
  3. Better Surface Adhesion: Vapor smoothing can improve the surface adhesion of material particles, making the part’s structure more cohesive. This greater cohesion contributes to a more effective barrier against fluid penetration.
  4. Sealing Effect: The action of the solvent vapour creates a kind of sealant on the material’s surface. This sealing layer can prevent fluids from infiltrating through any remaining microcracks or imperfections, which are less common but still present in untreated PA12.

Advantages of a smoothed surface through vapour smoothing

In addition to providing a smooth and uniform surface, vapour smoothing improves the aesthetic quality of 3D printed parts, making them more attractive for industries such as automotive and product design. The ability to achieve a high-quality surface finish without visible layer lines significantly expands the applications of 3D printed parts, allowing them to compete more directly with parts made through more traditional manufacturing methods, such as injection moulding.

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