Polypropylene 3D printing - A new world of prototyping and product design

By Matt Hatch
Polypropylene Part
Now able to 3D print in Polypropylene

While polypropylene is one of the most versatile plastics available to manufacturers, until now you faced limitations in cost effectively producing rapid prototypes or designing complex geometries.  Well now that world of design and testing has just opened up, presenting you with opportunities that you could only dream about.  

But first let’s go back a step and examine where we have come from.  Until recently it was almost impossible to 3D print parts from polypropylene.  The science was not on your side, since the material had not been fully developed for the process.  Due to its high crystallinity it had a tendency to shrink and warp making it a challenge to 3D print.

Of course, there were options. You could still prototype using CNC machining or injection moulding, but effectively you were limited in what you could achieve due to economics and in design terms.  Another option was to use a polypropylene-like thermoset resin that was UV cured, but it is not polypropylene and it does not have the same properties; so while you could test the design, it would not always perform in the same way as the actual material.

However good the mimic is, it is still not the real thing. 

Now thanks to advances in this material we can 3D print polypropylene parts using selective laser sintering and remove that brake on product design and development. 

You can now prototype products or parts and then test them in the actual material that the final part will be manufactured in. Also you can create designs with complex geometries that are simply not possible using other technologies.  Your engineering design world just got a whole lot bigger.

And this is for a material that dominates the number of components and parts manufactured from plastic.  Let’s take a car for example – fully 32% of all the plastic used in a car is polypropylene.

Perfecting polypropylene product design

Let’s just think about what this means. Manufacturers are in a race where the first to market with a new idea or design wins, and second place, well no one wants to be a me too.

Never before has it been more important to get new concepts to manufacture more quickly.  Equally if the product or component is not spot on, then the complaints will quickly pile up.  Do I really need to mention what that means to your brand’s reputation in today’s era of social media?

Rapid prototyping is the start of that race to market.  And now of course you can cost effectively and quickly develop a prototype in polypropylene using 3D printing. You can then test it and, if necessary, tweak and retest that concept more quickly than before.

But the race to market is longer than just prototyping, so being a goal oriented manufacturer, where else can you shave days, weeks or even months from that product development cycle?

What if your prototyping partner could take your concept from prototype, through a design for manufacturability analysis, develop bridge tooling and even injection mould that part on demand while you were waiting for your production tooling? Now that is a lean, well-honed manufacturing athlete.

You might have guessed that we are that supplier. We can help you shave vital time from that product development process. 

So that’s a big tick for mass production parts, what about for something bespoke or a little bit special?

Letting your imagination run riot

Injection moulding and CNC machining is great for mass production, but the technologies do have their limitations in what designs you can realise using them.

The great thing about 3D printing is that you can design anything that you want.  From organic shapes to honeycomb structures to save weight, the only design boundary is your imagination.

Whether your challenge is to shorten product development cycles, or design something that you couldn’t before, the ability to 3D print polypropylene has just widened your design engineering horizon.