Making use of a new material up to 50 times more abrasion-resistant than conventional 3D printer materials, filament pioneer Igus says their iglide® tribo-filament for 3D printers is made to smooth the way when printing out bearings.
The concept of using a rolling element to move heavy items dates back to the ancient Egyptians. While their engineers used logs to transport large stone pieces to construction areas as they built the pyramids, the first modern bearings as we might understand them were made from Lignum Vitae, the heavy, hard, oily wood native to Central America and the West Indies.
Natural oils impregnated in this wood were integral to their being used in such applications as propeller driven vessels, water wheels, and pumps. Those old wooden bearings were durable, strong and relatively simple to replace once lubricated with tallow or other animal fats.
Leonardo da Vinci relied on them as key design elements for many of his mechanical engineering projects such as pumps, hoists, cranes, and various implements of war. Leonardo spent countless hours analyzing bearings, linkages, gears and mechanical transmission devices.
During the mid 1700s, advances in iron production led to more precise machine tools, and those tools needed new styles of bearings capable of higher durability and function. So in 1839, Isaac Babbit invented an antifriction alloy which boasted a very low melt temperature. His alloy could be formed and molded, and those properties were ideal as surfaces for bearings. Babbit Metal became the stuff of the future, and Henry Bessemer's process refinements allowed steel-making to become considerably more economical.
The advent of polytetrafluoroethylene, or PTFE (the nonstick coating used in pots and pans) was yet another innovation which helped in the development of ever more efficient bearings.
Now 3D printers can print three-dimensional pieces of startling complexity, and their advantages include the avoidance of high tooling costs and the fact that no excess material need be machined away. That makes 3D printing a cost-effective method without limits to geometric design, making the production of otherwise impossible and unusual shapes possible.
Through their research of 3D printer filament materials, Igus says iglide tribo-filament is the wave of the future in bearing manufacturing and that the material "has been tested countless times" at their in-house testing lab. They call it the "first filament for 3D printers specifically developed for dynamic applications." This new filament gives customers more flexibility for the design of their bearings, and prototypes can be produced relatively cost-effectively and quickly. The company also offers a 3D-CAD library of bearing designs in STL formats which can be downloaded and directly used as input data for 3D printing.
The filament will be produced with spool diameters of 1.75 mm and 3.00 mm, and starter kits of approximately 25 grams of the material are available for initial trials.