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SYS-CON MEDIA Authors: JP Morgenthal, AppDynamics Blog, John Wetherill, Harry Trott, Roger Strukhoff

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NinjaFlex(R) 3D Printer Filament Makes Waves

Stretching 3D Imagination and Application

MANHEIM, PA--(Marketwired - July 16, 2014) - With the explosive growth of 3D desktop printers, users varying from home hobbyists to industrial designers have pushed the additive manufacturing industry to go farther, and create new materials from which to produce more realistic, affordable and flexible designs. Fenner Drives®, makers of NinjaFlex, an innovative thermoplastic elastomer 3D printer filament is stretching design possibilities.

"It may seem like an unusual move for a 103-year-old belting company in Lancaster County to create a 3D printer filament, but the core materials and technology are similar," comments Jack Krecek, president of Fenner Drives. "We believe our engineering expertise in urethanes makes Fenner Drives an ideal, reliable source for super elastic, highly durable 3D printer filament."

In October 2013, Fenner Drives launched the NinjaFlex 3D printer filament brand, initially available in four colors: Snow, Fire, Midnight and Sapphire. Within months, the NinjaFlex line was expanded, adding five more colors: Lava, Flamingo, Grass, Sun and Water (for semi-transparent applications). To date, the brand is earning great reviews on forums and in editorial coverage, and also adding distributors in multiple countries, rapidly expanding its global reach. All NinjaFlex filaments, available in 1.75mm and 3mm diameter, are made in the USA, and stocked in England for international order fulfillment.

NinjaFlex in Action

There is broad application for NinjaFlex filament, ranging from bike handle grips to flexible wearables and shoes for fashion, to scientific applications such as the helmet liner used for an exoskeleton featured in a demonstration at the 2014 FIFA World Cup opening ceremony. Wearing a custom-fit exoskeleton with a special helmet, a paralyzed person walked onto the field and kicked the ceremonial ball. To accomplish this futuristic feat, the kicker drove the movement with his mind, and the bionic exoskeleton did the rest. This truly transformational work is being done by Miguel A.L. Nicolelis, MD, PhD, of Duke University, a Brazil native, and neuroscientist who is part of the Walk Again Project.

To make the helmet, connecting the user's brain to the exoskeleton, project engineers first 3D-scanned the patient's head. Then, partners at Colorado State University used LulzBot TAZ 3D printers to create a functional 3D model out of the flexible NinjaFlex filament. Three-dimensional printing allows the team to make and improve models constantly. It is a complex process but this now-affordable technology helps research scientists save time and money. The final product -- a white, pliable, custom-fit liner -- took 58 hours and 38 minutes to print.

"A mind-controlled exoskeleton sounds like an excellent plotline for a sci-fi film," remarks Krecek. "When in fact, it's becoming an amazing reality for the millions of people who are paralyzed. We can't dream big enough for the application of flexible filaments being used in today's 3D-print technology, particularly for biomedical use."

Stealing the Spotlight

NinjaFlex was featured at the RAPID show held June 10-12, in Detroit. "We were blown away by the number of NinjaFlex fans who stopped by our exhibit to share their creations and user stories," says Stan Kulikowski, applications engineer for Fenner Drives. "Everyone from the media, to industrial engineers to casual enthusiasts were eager to learn about our expanding distributor network and future developments for the line."

The RAPID tradeshow is an authority on 3D printing, 3D scanning and additive manufacturing, and is a growing destination for learning and networking among 3D printer manufacturers and other business owners. In 2014, RAPID boasted the largest exhibit floor in its 25-year history. The event is sponsored by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers. According to the non-profit's website, SME connects all those who are passionate about making things that improve our world.

The Ninja Has a Name

Fenner Drives recently conducted a "Name the Ninja" contest, in which hundreds of potential names for the brand's kicking ninja logo were submitted from a pool of external enthusiasts. The winner, Brendan Strain of Sandy, Utah, comments, "I am thrilled at that! Thanks so much, I'm totally honored! I love Ninjaflex."

Strain received a complete set of nine spools of NinjaFlex filament (one spool in each NinjaFlex color) for being the first participant to submit the name, Slicer. "Slicer is a great name for our filament," says Robin Palmer, marketing manager for Fenner Drives. "Since all 3D prints are created in 'slices' or layers by the 3D printers, it's a clever tie-in to the process."

About Fenner Drives

With ISO 9001 certified production facilities in Manheim, Pa., and Wilmington, N.C., Fenner Drives offers a wealth of manufacturing, technical and commercial expertise. Fenner Drives is a division of Fenner PLC. With more than 5,200 employees worldwide, Fenner PLC is a leading global provider of local, engineered solutions for performance critical applications.

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