As the name implies, expandable foam is a distinctive product that expands and hardens on coming in contact with air. It is composed of polyurethane, latex, or other similar substances. The expandable foam finds a wide variety of applications in the different industrial sectors. Its global market value was estimated to be  $1.5 billion in 2017. However, the same is set to grow at a CAGR of 6.5% in the next seven years.

Also known as the spray foam, the expandable foam is either available in canned containers or spray bottles, depending on its specific nature, expandability, and the pressure it applies to surrounding structures while expanding. One may also find different types of foam with additional features like fire and moisture resistance. Many suppliers and utility workers stock the expandable foam to use it as a sealant or while installing doors and windows.

But most industrial workers are unaware of its tremendous scope in the additive manufacturing industry. Large objects can be 3D-printed using this foam through controlled processes. Due to technology limitations, only small objects are 3D-printed at present, even smaller than the printing machine. However, the global additive manufacturing industry is set to grow at a CAGR of 14% in the next seven years, thus hinting at a major upheaval in applications and advancements in printing. In 2018, nearly 1.42 million units of 3D-printers were shipped, and the number is about to reach 8 million by 2027. With advanced printer units, the spray foam can be utilized in aerospace, architecture, biomedicine, and other industries for building bigger and sturdier objects.

Let us shed some light on the matter. Scroll on!

What type of objects can be created with expandable foam?

So far, the spray foam has only been used in sealing cracked pipes, repairing roofs, and floors, and insulating doors and windows. However, the 3D-printing technology can raise its status by creating large objects, even larger than the machine itself. Using foam that expands to about 40 times its initial volume can even be used to create complex parts of vehicles, aerospace equipment, and architectural components.

In traditional manufacturing, the various 3D-printed parts are either welded or glued together to form larger structures. It takes a lot of time and effort to complete the end structure. However, it can be resolved using expandable foam that can expand to about 40 times its original volume under specific conditions. It can be 3D-printed into smaller structures that can grow into their larger forms later. From aerospace to healthcare, the foam can find extensive applications in different manufacturing sectors. Both strong and lightweight, the foam can create floatable objects like self-sufficient boats and large components of ships.

It can also be used to create shape-shifting toys for children who find great delight in playing with them. Miniature structures can be expanded into their full size and volume, which is interesting to watch, if not anything else. No longer will the size limitations of the printing machine will prohibit the manufacture of large objects. Even independent vehicles and construction components can be created using the expandable foam, which is hard, unbreakable, and considerably scratch, and wear-resistant.

How to make the foam structures expand?

It is impossible to get the expanded form of the structures directly from the 3D-printer. A lot of manufacturers’ frustration arises from this limitation of the 3D-printer. The objects printed should not exceed the size of the printer. Most manufacturers can print only components, which have to then clubbed together to form the larger structures. The idea of saving time with 3D-printing thus falls flat on its face. Almost the same time and effort is required to put those components together, thus providing no additional benefit at all.

Expandable foam can change that. As it is expandable to about 40 times its original size, one can create a wide variety of objects using the same. But, how can the materials get expanded to their maximum size? It is simple – by using heat. Yes, heat application can make these objects expand into the desired size and volume without compromising their integrity and sturdiness.

A type of 3D-printing, called stereolithography, can also create marvelous structures using expandable resin. It involves exposing the photosensitive layers of the resin to some specific light patterns that bring the object to its desirable size and volume. However, it requires a large, industrial 3D-printer to perform stereolithography. But to create substances using expandable foam, one can use the standard commercial printers without any hassle. Who would have ever thought that the inexpensive substance used to seal cracks can back one of the advanced and futuristic technologies like additive manufacturing? Well, it seems that we do underestimate things based on their looks and initial functions. Irony at its best!

Which industries can benefit from 3D-printing expandable foam?

Not one or two, but multiple industries can benefit from 3D-printing once they start using expandable foam as the base material. Neither do they have to buy expensive industrial printers, nor they need to spend time clubbing separate components to create one large object. However, some industries will benefit more than others. Take a look:

  • Healthcare and medicine – Full-size anatomical structures, hearing aids, dental prosthetics, artificial organs, and many more substances can be manufactured using 3D printers. Already, about 98% of hearing aids are manufactured using this technology. The process of manufacturing can be made more affordable and customizable using the expandable foam.
  • Chemical and manufacturing industry – Expensive manufacturing equipment, besides other materials, can be 3D-printed using expandable foam. As buying such equipment from the market can be cost-intensive, 3D-printing is a cost-effective alternative.
  • Toys and entertainment – The recreation industry can benefit largely from 3D-printing by making toys and other entertainment materials. But expandable foam can make such processes even easier. One may create large, practical playthings that the children of the 21st century find interesting generally.
  • Automotive industry – Can you imagine if you could create miniature cars that can be expanded into the original form by applying heat? Well, this is not a sci-fi movie, but yes, it is not impossible too. Who knows what the future holds? But at present, the expandable foam can be used to manufacture separate components of vehicles, prototype vehicles, fixtures, and replacement parts.
  • Robotics – There’s no lack of use of foam in the robotics industry. From independent parts and robot components to gripper fingers and robot prototypes, expandable foam can be used to create anything.
  • Education – Yes, you read it right! The education industry can also benefit from 3D-printed expandable foam. Ph.D. students require a wide variety of materials for day-to-day studies. These substances are not only expensive but also rarely available. But 3D-printing these substances can make researches more cost-effective for the students.
  • Aerospace – From manufacturing components to prototyping, expandable foam can find a wide variety of uses in the aerospace industry. One may create aesthetically impressive substances, like door handles, interior dashboards, and light housings with expandable foam. The visually-appealing models also help engineers gain motivation to manufacture complex structures quite easily.

How Additive Accelerator Can Help

At Additive Accelerator, our team specializes in providing expert consultation regarding the different types of 3D-printing technologies. We are aware of the nitty-gritty of the additive manufacturing industry. It helps us offer our clients an insight into the technology and its benefits. From company owners to independent manufacturers, everyone can reach us to get an idea of how 3D-printing can benefit their business. As the technology is still in its nascent stages, business owners may find it difficult to find the right one. Our experts can help you choose a favorable additive manufacturing technology to take your business revenue a notch up.

So get in touch with us today and learn more about technology and how it can benefit your business in the long run.