Kevlar is famed as the material that can stop bullets in their tracks. Find out about Kevlar 3D printing and how its strength and durability lend themselves to its rising popularity.
Kevlar is a synthetic plastic that was created to stop bullets and knives in their tracks, which makes it one of the toughest materials on the market. If we listed how many manufacturing, governmental, and structural ways Kevlar is used, we’d be here all day, so just trust us when we say it’s military-grade and has been field tested in a huge variety of applications. That includes 3D printing!
But what exactly is it?
Kevlar is part of a large family of plastics made through polymerization, all of which are built by linking together long chains of molecules. Kevlar’s are set in tightly-woven, regular parallel lines, and that’s where it gets its endurance properties.
Its scientific classification calls it a synthetic aromatic polyamide. That’s got some complicated syllables in it, but if you’ve worked in chemistry, it’s pretty easy to decipher: Basically, it’s a man-made substance of ring-like molecules that connect in long lines, which through its fibers like iron beams reinforcing a wooden door. As a bonus, its molecular structure makes it able to withstand tremendous heat (up to 900 degrees Celsius).
From the Laboratory to the Factory
Manufacturing Kevlar means first making the plastic itself and then spinning it into fibers. To make its polymer, a chemical with the same makeup as ammonia is combined with an organic acid, which replaces one of the hydrogen atoms in the ammonia molecules to transform them into amides. That’s what makes the long chains of molecules that give Kevlar its durable properties.
This strength makes it an obviously great choice for materials that need to be heavy duty, but also flexible and lightweight. Although we usually think of plastics as rigid shapes, Kevlar is basically a fabric. It takes heavier machinery than cotton or nylon, but Kevlar can be pulled together into objects in much the same way, with a design and manufacturing process a lot like making clothing. That’s easy to remember if you think of Kevlar’s most well-known application as the material used for bulletproof vests.
From the Factory to the Printer
A few enterprising 3D printing companies have taken the ability to spool Kevlar into thread-like fibers and applied it to their own additive manufacturing techniques. They present options to use Kevlar threads on their own or mixed in with other filaments for added tensile strength.
You can use this to print whatever 3D object you want, but keep in mind that only a few companies out there have options, so you’ll be limited to the features that are currently available. Nevertheless, keep an eye out for how this super-material evolves.
So why would you want something 3D printed in Kevlar? Besides the properties of flexible strength inherent in its makeup, Kevlar’s got a lot going for it as a 3D printing material.
If you’re a desktop maker, don’t despair — it is possible to add Kevlar to your 3D printing repertoire. But you do have to take a few things into consideration.
Kevlar is remarkably versatile, but still a small, specialized area of the 3D printing market. With a bit of effort, you can get into it yourself, or you can find a 3D printing service that will do it for you. That’s especially nice if you have a special project you want to 3D print in Kevlar but have limited use for it otherwise, or if you’re interested but want to see how it goes before investing time and money into something you’re not 100% sure about yet.
Either way, here are a few options:
3D printing with Kevlar is a great way to add more strength and flexibility to your prints. Although you will need to have specialized equipment to do it yourself, it’s definitely worth it if you’re looking for a way to cut down on your industrial manufacturing costs or if you’re ready to fully commit to it as a desktop user. Plus, with Kevlar’s truly awesome range of versatility, the 3D printing aspect of working with it is growing rapidly to expand its reach to match its possibilities.
Feature image source: Tom’s 3D
License: The text of "Kevlar 3D Printer – The Basics of 3D Printing Kevlar" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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