For years, our coating operation has purchased masking products from various vendors. The market for standard, off-the-shelf caps, plugs and adhesive products are very competitive and reasonably priced. Some projects require custom masking, however, and the setup fees and long lead times often make custom masking options financially unfeasible. For such projects, manual tape masking is often used instead, and the cost of the additional labor is passed on to the customer.
Several years ago, we began exploring the possibility of using 3D-printed masking that we could produce in-house. As the technology matured and the cost of 3D printers decreased, we continually invested in this process.
As with most new technology, there are trade-offs and learning curves to overcome. To complicate matters further, there is a plethora of options and software available from which to choose, and it can be overwhelming. If you are looking for information about 3D printing in general, it is fairly easy to find out about the best materials and methods for printing a Yoda head or other Halloween costume, but there are very few resources related to 3D printing masking for a production coating facility.
Limitations and Benefits of 3D Printing
Before we jump into what 3D-printed masking can do, it is important to understand what it can’t do: It can’t stand up to high-temperature processes. We only 3D-print masking for our liquid and powder processes, because the masking typically begins to deform between 200°F and 300°F, depending on the type of filament used to make it. So for now, masking for any process in which you cannot remove the mask prior to a bake cycle is out of the question. That is not to say a person could not print molds for masking materials that can withstand higher temperatures, and we are exploring that possibility. Also, new 3D-printing materials are entering the market weekly with many different properties. It is possible that a new filament will be developed that raises the heat-deflection temperature beyond the 300°F we currently see
Read more: 3D Printing for Masking
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