Dec 16, 2014 | By Simon

If you've been paying attention to 3D printing-related news within the past few months, chances are you've come across the Strati 3D printed car from crowdsourced vehicle design hub Local Motors at one point or another.

While the Strati itself is 3D printed using Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) techniques, its build construction wouldn't translate well if the parts were used in more traditional vehicles... save for the non-3D printed components such as the engine and wheels.

In contrast, a Chicago-based company that creates technology for 3D printed objects made of reinforced composites wants to allow people to put their 3D prints directly into existing cars... those of the non-3D printed kind.

Having successfully raised $2.8 million in seed funding in a round led by Chicago-based OCA Ventures this morning, Impossible Objects is one step closer towards putting their reinforced composite, production-ready 3D printed parts into today's automobiles. Other investors in Impossible Objects include Armando Pauker, a partner at Apex Venture Partners in Chicago, and Len Wanger, managing partner at Deer Valley Ventures of Park City, Utah.

The company, which was founded by Robert Swartz, an entrepreneur and IP consultant for MIT Media Lab, plans to use the entirety of their funding towards developing and marketing a commercial-ready 3D printer for further advancing their unique reinforced composite 3D printing technology.

Compared to more traditional 3D printers that are only capable of printing in different varieties of thermoplastics, the technology behind Impossible Objects is capable of producing 3D prints that incorporate more rigid materials such as carbon fiber, Kevlar and fiberglass.

Impossible Objects CEO Larry Kaplan

"Our parts are not just for prototypes; they're for end use," said Impossible Objects CEO Larry Kaplan. "The combination gives you the strength [of fiber] but the light weight of a polymer or plastic."

As for how the patent-pending technology works, the process is different from existing Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) 3D printing techniques. According to Kaplan, it is based on thermal inkjet printing technology. Sheets of fiber material, such as carbon fiber, are fed into the inkjet printer. The inkjet heads contain a proprietary fluid that serves as an intermediate wetting agent for later adding the polymer. The inkjet head prints the layer of the object on the fiber sheet. After printing, polymer powder is deposited non-selectively onto the fiber sheet. The powder adheres to the print liquid and then the dry powder is removed. The sheets representing all of the layers of the object are then stacked, heated and compressed, whereby the polymer layers fuse together to form the object. Finally, the object is finalized by removing unwanted material through mechanical or chemical means, depending on the type of fiber.

Once completed, the final object is 2x-10x stronger than traditional thermoplastic 3D prints such as those used strictly for prototyping. Due to its unique composite makeup, each print can also be customized for a variety of applications including heat and chemical resistant properties.

Currently, Impossible Objects is using two machines to print custom 3D prints for clients in the aerospace and trucking industries. With their recently-acquired funding, Kaplan hopes to speed up their manufacturing process to be as fast as injection molding.

Whether they are able to speed up their print times or not, the introduction of reinforced composite 3D prints will be an exceptional addition to the expanding options offered through additive manufacturing methods.


Posted in 3D Printers


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