The choice of materials in the 3D printing area is being expanded further. We now have metal-like filaments, wood-like filaments, filaments with carbon fiber and a lot more. One filament option that isn’t all that common due to the difficulties companies face in making it is thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU). However, TPU is increasingly used by 3D printer owners because of its flexibility. We’ve seen it create a variety of different 3D printed products that were almost impossible just a few years ago.
A man named Thomas Palm seems to have gotten quite competent at what he does. He has developed his own consumer-grade filament extruder capable of extruding TPU, which his company Rubber3dprinting has for sale.
“Current consumer filament extruders cannot extrude TPU, etc. to good tolerances,” Palm told 3DPrint.com. “So I designed my own. My real goal is to later publish a Kickstarter or Indigogo project for my filament extruder. Hopefully the first quarter of 2015. “
Not only is Palm able to make ordinary TPU filaments, but it can also make conductive TPU by adding carbon to its blend. The possibilities for this material are really endless, but Palm tested it by creating several unique designs. One of them is a prosthetic / robotic finger that he 3D printed. It is printed using a double extrusion method with the TPU being printed for the bendable joints as well as the force sensitive fingertips.
“The fingertip has an outer shell that, when pressed, connects to the inner conductive surface, creating a closed circuit,” says Palm. “The connection is also a bit pressure sensitive.”
While Palm admits that touch-sensitive fingertips on robotic hands are not all that new, he believes that his innovation will make them much more affordable, and will also allow an entire hand to be 3D printed without much assembly.
Other designs Palm developed that were 3D printed with its TPU material include a set of wheels for an OpenRC truggy, as well as a 3D printed keyboard-like device, a product he called “Mr. Vise Guy ”, a flexible handle for plastic bags that makes holding shopping bags less painful, and among other things a pair of very comfortable and aesthetically pleasing sandals.
It should be interesting to see all of the unique products Palm has made for its filament going forward, and we will definitely be keeping an eye on Kickstarter / Indiegogo for its filament extruder due out in early 2015.
What do you think of the potential for Palm’s rubbery TPU filament and its conductive TPU filament? Discuss in the Conductive TPU Filament forum thread on 3DPB.com. Check out the video below where Palm talks about some of its creations and some more photos.