AM SoftwareProduct Launch

Protolabs enables novel 3D printed surface finishes

The textures include leather-like finishes and intricate geometric patterns

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Protolabs, a digital manufacturing solutions provider, has introduced a service for enhancing surface finish options in product development – offering product developers, innovators, and manufacturers unprecedented choices in surface textures. Focusing on prototypes and limited production series, Protolabs has made it possible to achieve unique and appealing surface textures. These include leather-like finishes and intricate geometric patterns, a feat previously unattainable in standard additive manufacturing processes.

The introduction of textured surfaces is particularly impactful in areas such as injection molding, where it enables the creation of components with unique appearances and tactile qualities. Industries ranging from automotive to aerospace and medical technology now have greater control over the surface texture in 3D printing. This breakthrough allows for the creation of realistic leather-like structures and complex geometric patterns – broadening the scope of application possibilities.

“There are virtually no limits to the imagination of our customers here,” said Christoph Erhardt, Manager of Customer Projects and Additive Design at Protolabs. “By creating structured surfaces, we’re building another bridge between injection molding and 3D printing. A key advantage of our new offering is that no further post-processing steps are required to achieve the desired surface feel and appearance. Surface structures are created during the design process that correspond to the final (series) part and can include even fine details. This provides our customers with the unique opportunity to structure new kinds of surfaces as well as to replicate structures that already exist in nature.”

One of the most noteworthy developments is the leather-like surface structure. This innovation is a potential game-changer for the fashion and automotive sectors – offering a sustainable and more ethical alternative to traditional leather. The technology could open the door for a new era of animal-friendly, additively manufactured leather structures.

Protolabs’ approach to achieving these structured surfaces involves translating desired textures into black-and-white contrast images. These images define the dimensions for the production process, making it highly adaptable for various manufacturing techniques. This method is compatible with selective laser sintering (SLS), multi-jet fusion (MJF), and other additive manufacturing techniques.

The result is a prototype manufactured with exceptional precision – closely mirroring the properties of the final product. This advancement not only accelerates production processes but also hastens the market readiness of products – significantly benefiting the manufacturing timeline.

The new surface structures are not just about visual appeal – they also enhance the functional properties of components. By customizing the surface finish, users can adjust friction levels, improve adhesion, and optimize heat dissipation. This flexibility allows for the tailoring of haptic feedback and aesthetics, as well as enhancing the durability, efficiency, and performance of products.

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Edward Wakefield

Edward is a freelance writer and additive manufacturing enthusiast looking to make AM more accessible and understandable.

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