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Somebody's hand is squeezing a flexible 3D printed tire made out of TPU material

TPU Material 3D Printing -
Tips and Tricks

Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU) is a flexible, abrasion resistant thermoplastic that is used in a number of manufacturing processes for both consumer and industrial use. In certain blends it can become very soft, but TPU material offers many benefits and features. When it comes to 3D printing, TPU 3D printed parts are durable and have the ability to withstand ambient temperatures of up to 80 degrees Celsius.

TPU filament is abrasion resistant, can withstand impacts and is resistant to many chemicals. Its versatile and used in many different industries. There are different versions of TPU material but in the main it can be classed as two types known as Polyether Polyurethane and Polyester Polyurethane, with both having different characteristics that can be suited to a specific need.

Main features

Impact strength: high
Durability: high
Flexibility: very high

Resistance

Chemical resistance: medium-high
Abrasion resistance: high
Water resistance: medium

Temperatures

Nozzle/ extruder: 220-250 degrees Celsius
Heated bed: 0-60 degrees Celsius
Closed chamber: Not necessary

Downpoints

TPU is more difficult to print compared to other filament materials, mainly due to its flexibility.

Features of TPU material

TPU material has a number of features, making it a great choice for a wide range of uses. It is resistant to abrasion, oil, chemical and wearing, which makes it perfect for use in industries such as the automotive industry. TPU printed parts are also resistant to low temperatures, which which means that it does not become brittle and difficult to work with.

Compared to TPE, which is also a flexible filament, TPU is a little bit easier to print and retains its elastic properties better at lower temperatures. TPU material also has a higher abrasion resistance and a higher resistance to oils and greases.

TPU filament, unlike other stiffer thermoplastic, has qualities that include flexibility and conformity. It also has an excellent interlayer adhesion and no curling or delamination during the 3D printing process, when using the right settings.

Rigid or elastic

TPU material consists of a number of polymers that all bring in their own properties and so, the hardness of it can depend on the blend of polymers. The temperature at which TPU filament will extrude is 220–250 degrees. A heated build platform is not required, but when used the temperature should not be  higher than 60 degrees. The extruder system will need to withstand materials that are both flexible and compressible up to a constant temperature of 250 degrees.

TPU has an excellent level of flexibility, but this also depends on the 3D printing software settings. When you use a low level of infill (the solidness of the part to be printed), also called interior fill percentage in Simplify3D, the 3D printed design will also be more flexible. This makes it possible to create objects that are more elastic or more rigid. When it comes to 3D printing, TPU material requires the transfer of a larger amount of energy than a lot of other filaments. However, compared to other material there are no warping issues which can be experienced through thermic shock.

TPU material 3D printing tips

When it comes to printing with TPU filament, it is important to understand its strengths and weaknesses. How do you get the most out of this material? It is vital to take possible issues into account when deciding to start with TPU material, so you know what to expect.

Somebody is using the 3D printer screen to change the settings

1. Optimising the feed rate

It is often best to use a consistent feed rate that is slow when 3D printing with flexible filaments. This is down to the fact that the material is elastic and can become uncontrollable if there are any sudden changes to the speed of the print. Increased print speeds can result in a compression of the filament, which can lead to a jam. It can often take several attempts to find the optimal print speed for 3D printing TPU material, however, a good starting point is a speed of 35 mm/s.

To achieve this using TPU material, print at lower layer heights, ensuring they are in the range of 0.1mm to 0.2mm. At the lower layer height, there is a requirement for less plastic and that means that the extruder feeds at a lower rate which eases the burden on the filament.

Red 3D printed object with TPU flexible filament

2. Use a negative tolerance and avoid using rafts

When designing a part that is flexible and has a requirement to fit on top of another object, it is worth considering using a negative tolerance between the parts. This will ensure that the flexible part has the ability to stretch comfortably over the other object.

When using flexible filament such as TPU material, it is important to avoid using rafts because the base layers of the rate have a higher rate of extrusion which could lead to problems.

Screenshot of Simplify3D software with retraction settings for the 3D printer

3. Optimize the retraction settings

Because TPU material is flexible and elastic, it makes it very sensitive to fast movements such as retractions. Therefore, to successful 3D print using the TPU filament, it is crucial that you optimise the retraction settings to limit the movements. Its crucial to begin with a small amount of retraction while using a slower speed to help with any possible oozing from the extruder (hot-end).

Bowden extruder which is 3D printing flexible filament

4. Shorten the distance

The general opinion is in favor of 3D printing flexible materials with a Direct Drive extruder. Nevertheless, you can reach the same results when using the right settings on a 3D printer with Bowden extruder. It is important for the path in which the filament travels to the melt zone to have tight tolerances, which can prevent any kinking or coiling.

Filament spool above a 3D printer unwinds downwards

5. Placement of the spool

When it comes to 3D printing TPU, a couple of tweaks to the spool of the material can make a large difference. Commonly, the extruder drive wheel will pull the filament into the nozzle, which results in the filament spool unwinding a small amount of plastic in the process. However, as TPU is elastic, the filament will be stretched while pulled which can lead to under-extrusion. Therefore, mount the spool above the printer so the filament unwinds downwards which can reduce any resistance.

Industries that use TPU material in 3D Printing

There are many different industries that use TPU 3D printing because its features offer them a number of advantages.

3D Printed Footwear Made Out of TPU Material

Sporting goods and footwear

As sporting goods need to be flexible and hard wearing, TPU material is the perfect choice. In many sports it can be found in training aids, water equipment and fitness equipment. Footwear has to withstand low temperatures, flexibility and be resistant to water and chemicals. Therefore, 3D printing TPU is great for manufacturing sporting goods.

SLEM researched the possibilities of 3D printed footwear

SLEM, an innovation and education centre for the footwear industry, has asked Tractus3D to cooperate in a 3D printing project for shoes. The goal is to research how the amount of material waste can be reduced as much as possible, while exploring new and existing methods for rapid customization of digital models for every customer.

SLEM found out that FDM technology and other approaches like Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) production arguably represent the most cost-effective solution for customizing soles. Shoes created using these processes are particularly effective in tailoring sole designs to the unique needs of wearers, from shape and comfort to gain and specific applications like sports. The ultimate goal for shoe companies in the future will be getting the soles printed within a day to ensure a quick turnaround from receiving customer data to design optimization, production, and delivery to customers.

Aerospace

The aerospace industry is also taking the use of TPU 3D printing seriously as it too has increased its use, understanding exactly what it has to offer. It can also be found in instrument panels and sensors.

Automotive

The automotive industry has turned to TPU material and implemented it into the manufacturing process of vehicles. In recent years the use has risen considerably and so, it can often be found in instrument panels, sensors and levers as well as many other areas.

What do you want to create by 3D printing with TPU?

By now you understand TPU's strengths and weaknesses. Of course it is vital to choose a 3D printing machine that is able to get the best out of this material.

Create small and detailed parts

a FDM printing machine next to a desk

With a 3D printer on your desk you can easily create small parts and specialized tools yourself. It is far less complex than other machines, which means that you can produce more products in an efficient and simple way without the high costs. The 3D printers in our desk-series have a fast printing speed, a high accuracy and a low weight, making it easy to put on your desktop or move around.

Create strong and light weight parts

PEEK 3D printer of Tractus3D

High-performance materials, like PEEK and ULTEM® (PEI) are stronger and more resistant than other thermoplastics, making them popular in a number of engineering applications. To 3D print such materials, you need a special printer that can handle very high temperatures. The T650-P is designed for 3D printing high performance thermoplastics, which are strong and durable for long-lasting parts.

Create large parts up to 2,1 meters

Tractus3D big delta Industrial 3D printer 3D printing a big object

The ability to use 3D printing to enhance business operations, reduce costs and improve efficiency is exactly why a 3D printer has become a popular solution. If you’re looking for a way to produce detailed and big objects our large volume 3D printers are an excellent choice. They have a much larger build size than most other industrial 3D printers and can print objects fast at a high resolution.

Tractus3D printers are all capable of printing with TPU and over 20 other different materials

Most advanced  Competitively priced  You are always covered

Prototypes and inventions

When choosing to start TPU 3D printing, there are a number of advantages and features that can prove to be beneficial. TPU material has already become extremely popular in prototypes and inventions within the 3D printing industry. It is now making it possible for manufacturers to change their approach to manufacturing and so its influence on the industry is rather impressive.

Quality and efficiency

Our industrial 3D printers stand out from the competition because they can handle potential problems that can arise from printing with TPU. For example the T650P is designed to handle temperatures which are even higher than required for TPU. It can reach a temperature of as much as 450 degrees Celsius and that puts it ahead of other 3D printers of which many would suffer with internal burning.

Level of accuracy

With this printer, there is an exceptional level of accuracy and speed because of the extreme temperatures that can be reached within the nozzle of 450 degrees. This makes it possible to create objects of the highest quality without errors, using TPU in the way that it is intended. There are also other filaments available and not just TPU, including PLA, ABS, PEEK, PEI/ Ultem™, POM and many more.

Do you have a question about 3D printing TPU? We are here for you!

We are happy to help and to provide you the assistance you need in researching the ideal solution for your business - in whatever way works best for you.

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