In the series of recent innovation waves ( nanocomposites, graphenes, carbon nanotubes etc) where the whole academic and industry research teams seem to be chasing the same dream materials at the same time, 3D printing has stood up to the challenge of showing commercial success in terms of innovative products albeit it is still in the initial phase of growth.
Decades back , small industrial parts like gaskets, flanges were carved out of the cast rods made of sintered PTFE, PEEK , PEI like materials leading to the waste of materials during processing. 3D printing has changed the scenario where the material is dispensed through the extruder to make parts from very small to large dimensions. The beauty of this technology is you can make any intricate part. Early limitation on traditional materials like PLA, ABS has been given away to introduction of newer materials even of high processing temperatures like PEEK, polyarylamide by additive manufacturers. Recently fiber reinforced materials based on carbon fibers have been launched by Arevo (www.arevolabs.com) to make stronger parts.
Polyurethane is a relatively new entrant (since 2013) as an additive in 3D printing technology. Both flexible and rigid polyurethane are used for 3D printing to make various products like soft toys, gaskets, parts for robotics, prostheses,running shoes etc. With polyurethane, one can choose materials of desired shore hardness.There have been attempts to fabricate polyurethane foam using 3D printing technology.