Welcome to another edition of our Creatz3D Fun Fact Series!
For today’s fun fact, we will be covering why support materials play an important role in ensuring that your FDM 3D prints come out the way they were intended to be.
Support Material – An Important Part of 3D Printing Success
For typical 3D printing scenarios, you have to account for gravity unless you are printing in space (unlikely for most cases).
If it’s a solid cube that you are printing, then this is a non-issue since each layer has a corresponding layer beneath it for support. But, what if the object you are printing has portions of the model that are essentially floating in mid-air with no structure directly below it as support?
This is where support material comes into play as they help to ensure the printability of a part and prevent collapse during 3D printing. Parts with complex design features like overhangs, holes, and bridges are more challenging to print as they are prone to collapse if not supported.
Do We Always Need Support Material?
In FDM 3D printers, parts are created by extruding heated filament layer by layer.
As they cool down, each layer is solidified as they bond with the previous layer. Each layer is printed slightly protruding to allow for expansion beyond its previous layer width.
If the part has features with angles up to 45°, it can be created without supports.
But if there is an overhang of more than 45° or include features like bridges and with protruding surfaces > 5mm, supports would be needed which could take the form of a lattice or tree-like structure.
Depending on what you are printing, there are a couple of options that are most commonly used.
This is a software trick where the slicing program fills in the void below the model with removable structure printed in the same material. The quality of the print depends on a couple of variables.
First, the slicing algorithm helps to ensure that the print is well supported, so that a clean break can be made while leaving a seam long which a clean break can be made.
The second consideration is the material that’s used as it’s more suitable for PLA whose hardness and rigidity properties ensures a higher possibility of having a clean break. For less rigid plastics, there will be bends and tears when support is removed, leaving remnants behind.
Compatible with many lower temperature models such as PLA and PETG, using water soluble support material requires 3D printers that have dual extruders which prints it alongside a model material.
The water soluble support material makes it extremely office-friendly – where the part is placed in water for it to dissolve the supports in a few hours before it is taken out.
Much more complex parts can be created because the solvent reaches deep within channels and crevices of the part. It can also reduce damage caused to the print, which is prevalent when using breakaway support.
SR-30 is a proprietary material developed by Stratasys to work seamlessly with ABS, ASA, and various high-temperature materials.
Because of the focused development, SR-30 when used with such challenging materials can yield exceptional results that wouldn’t be possible with water soluble support material. SR-30 can enable extreme complexity of geometry while maintaining excellent surface finishing at the support site.
However, SR-30 requires a specialty solvent along with heat for it to dissolve efficiently. There’s also the requirement of investing in additional equipment for it to work and possible used in a more controlled environment like a lab.
We hope this goes some way in clearing your doubts about support materials in 3D printing. You can also explore our range of 3D printers that are compatible with support materials.