Germany-based 3D printing service provider Rapid Product Manufacturing (RPM) has been awarded a research grant to develop complex elastic lattice structures using 3D printing technology.

Titled ‘Development of elastic lattice structures using additive manufacturing for various applications’, the Central Innovation Program for SMEs is being funded by the German AiF. Using Carbon’s resin-based Digital Light Synthesis (DLS) 3D printing technology and EPU41/EPU40 materials, RPM is set to develop several applications for these lattice structures with partners in the industrial and consumer goods sectors over the next year.

The project will also be supported by the Institute for Microtechnology at the Technical University of Braunschweig.

Dr. Claus Thomy, MD of Sales at RPM, states, “This grant focuses on DLS because Carbon put serial production at the forefront of their development. The material options and reliability of machine processes allow us to cover a variety of new business applications at a competitive cost point. Even more importantly because the material is standardized and validated, it also prints exactly the same way the second, third and twentieth time.”

Lattice structure 3D printed by RPM. Photo via RPM.
Lattice structure 3D printed by RPM. Photo via RPM.

RPM and 3D printed lattices

RPM initially adopted DLS 3D printing back in 2018, making the company one of the first service bureaus in Europe to offer the technology. Citing print speeds and high-resolution capabilities as primary factors in the decision, RPM believed the process would address a unique production requirement in its customer base. Last year, RPM 3D printed more series components than prototypes using DLS, marking a shift in the technology’s use cases.

Additionally, the recent launch of Carbon’s automated lattice generation tool has proven the process’ viability for 3D printed lattice structures. Starting with this grant, RPM will now focus on building up a knowledge bank of materials, design rules, and applications for 3D printed lattices – an area in which the firm intends to become a manufacturing leader.

Thomy adds, “When rpm adds improved part product performance using lattice structures that are only available in additive manufacturing, we are establishing truly superior product solutions.”

Elastic lattice structures 3D printed using EPU41 resin on a Carbon M2 system. Photo via RPM.
Elastic lattice structures 3D printed using EPU41 resin on a Carbon M2 system. Photo via RPM.

The benefits of lattice structures

So why 3D print lattice structures in the first place? According to Carbon, cutting the infill of a part by opting for a lattice counterpart can reduce material use by up to 57% and slash build times by up to 54%, all while preserving part performance. For manufacturers like RPM, the result is a huge time and cost saving.

To enable these benefits, RPM and its partners will research six different lattice application areas, each of which were selected based on customer hurdles encountered in the past few years. These include directed cooling channels within padded structures; pneumatics to control mechanical function; liquid to control mechanical function; integrating thermal cooling and heating within elastic parts; influencing dampening performance with air and liquid; and integrating flow systems within elastic parts.

Specifically, the project plan involves fabricating a variety of parts for evaluation, performance testing the parts, and optimizing the DLS processing parameters to eventually achieve reliable series production.

Dr. Jörg Gerken, Technical MD at RPM, concludes, “DLP technology allows us to take a different approach to product and part design. rpm recognizes that lattices will continue to be a key application from both the technological and material perspectives. After working with regular and irregular lattices in EPU materials for more than two years, we are ready to establish this next generation of production. The grant gives us the extra fuel we need to perform the necessary R&D and prepare for rapid product manufacturing.”

Lattices can reduce material use by up to 57% and slash build times by up to 54%. Photo via RPM.
Lattices can reduce material use by up to 57% and slash build times by up to 54%. Photo via RPM.

The benefits of lattice structures are recognized far and wide, beyond just Carbon and RPM. Engineering software developer CoreTechnologie has previously updated its 4D_Additive print preparation program with its own automated lattice generation module. The software’s lattice tool enables users to 3D print various types of internal and external grid structures, such as honeycomb, gyroid, and star shapes.

Elsewhere, in the academic space, researchers from the National Taiwan University of Science and Technology recently 3D printed a novel type of lattice structure based on sea urchins. The FDM-printed shell-shaped lattice structures are designed to be extremely stable, are load-bearing, and require no supports.