Open Materials Are the Backbone of Additive Manufacturing Success


At Plural, we put a lot of work into understanding and communicating how Additive Manufacturing is different from 3D printing and materials come up time and time again. As we continue to engage with our clients, we find materials often will define whether a given part and process is a suitable candidate for additive manufacturing, and play a significant role in how great the cost savings and process benefits are.

Two Color Flexible TPU In Action!

Two Color Flexible TPU In Action!

Talking about printers is sexy, but the real sizzle lies in the materials available and how the combination of printer, software and post processing combine to create production ready parts that are cost effective and produced on demand.


In our experience, open materials have been a core part of every success so far. Demand for new material types and formulations is high and driven by the diversity of materials found in more traditional manufacturing processes, such as injection molding.

One way to understand the importance of open materials is how use profiles related to Additive Manufacturing differ from 3D printing. While there is often some overlap between the two, Additive Manufacturing generally involves a greater emphasis on scale, the amount and consistency of material needed, as well as breadth of selection, types of materials, and in particular, new materials and or specialized materials being available.

The cost advantage built in to open materials is what makes serious additive manufacturing possible today.

Plural Additive Manufacturing solutions have employed open materials from day one for all of these reasons. Again, cost being primary, with the others ranging from equal importance to nice benefits, depending on the parts to be additive manufactured and their requirements.

A brief look at open and closed materials:

Open / Custom

  • Custom materials are available and can make a big difference in your application
  • Cost is a fraction of closed, proprietary materials, volume use encouraged and expected
  • You get the benefit of materials science innovation as soon as you can get your hands on the material and characterize it
  • Material handling innovation is under your control, no specialized metering or spools required
  • It is often possible to use closed materials along side open ones
  • Some proprietary materials, such as support material, are not available as open materials
  • Access to open materials is not predicated on having a support contract or materials use agreement, though both of those may provide cost leveling and other desirable benefits
  • Manufacture parts out of whatever materials your printer is capable of, not just the intended or supported, limited set of materials typically made available in closed, controlled environments
  • Explore “off label” and other niche use cases freely and to your competitive advantage!
  • Plural is investing heavily in new material discovery and characterization to save our clients time and money
Flexible Boot

Flexible Boot

Closed / Controlled

  • Generally limited to a small, generally applicable subset of possible materials
  • Cost and metered dispensation discourage volume, production use, and can result in waste, due to partial or spool remnants being difficult to use
  • Generally not possible to use open materials along side closed ones without modifying or hacking your 3D Printer and potentially voiding warranty and support contracts
  • There are very good proprietary materials not available as open materials
  • Users do not typically need to bother with characterization and or printer configuration due to the combination of printer and closed materials being closely developed and targeted for specific use cases
  • Innovation and materials availability is limited due to financial incentives to maximize profit and minimize cost of materials business
  • “Off Label” use is often unsupported and discouraged
  • There is a materials business and it’s a significant contributor to the manufacturers profit and your per part cost

There has never been a better time to get involved with additive manufacturing!


Contact us to learn more about the benefits and availability of open materials, better, more cost effective, industrial grade 3D printers and tap our growing library of production proven processes and integration services.


This article originally appeared on Medium.

Follow us there to get our take on various additive manufacturing topics, and what we’re seeing in the industry.