What use is a 3D printed part if all you can do is look at it? That was my reaction when I first saw a modern rapid prototyping machine in action. Yes, it’s great for visualisation to have an actual part in your hand, but the type of materials used in 3D printing invariably fall short in their physical properties, when compared to a real part.

While it is difficult to improve the inherent strength of a 3D printed part, it is certainly possible to improve the surface by coating it to resist wear and heat. How about a stainless steel coating? Or titanium? Or nickel? Zircotec can do all these and many other metal alloys, in addition to our well known ThermoHold® based ceramic coatings, which provide an effective thermal barrier coating against heat.

The thermal barrier coating enable a resin-based rapid prototype part to function mechanically, within the limits of its inherent strength, without suffering from premature abrasive wear, or degradation in proximity to a heat source. For many prototype vehicle applications, this makes the part much more useful by enabling more meaningful testing, for example in a running vehicle or on a test bed.

An example of Zircotec coating in association with 3D printing is the work we have done with one of our authorised distributors, CRP Technology. Here we applied our coating to CRP’s Windform rapid porotype material, and coated numerous Windform parts for both CRP and its end-customers. This allowed the parts to be used in real-world applications. Our work with CRP has also included the coating of 3D printed ‘production’ parts and featuring elements for the CRP Group’s ENERGICA Ego45 Electric Superbike. An example of which can be seen here.

Additionally, some of our work with CRP has involved motorsport applications. We have worked directly with several F1 teams and engine manufacturers, coating 3D printed parts to improve strength and wear resistance. These parts can then be tested in place of conventionally produced components.

While there are limitations on what can be achieved with 3D printed parts, Zircotec’s thermal barrier coatings can provide significant improvements to their properties and functionality. There is little doubt that the possibilities of 3D printing are significant but being able to use these parts functionally, particularly in rapid prototyping applications, was a substantial drawback – until now.

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