Feb 29, 2016 | By Kira

Incredible strength and stiffness, chemical and temperature resistance, electrical conductivity, and low weight on par with plastic parts: carbon fiber 3D printing has it all, and its poised to be the next major trend in industrial additive manufacturing.

While metal 3D printing has been skyrocketing in terms of popularity, market share, and high-demand applications for the past year, and will certainly continue to do so, 3D printing with carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) offers unique properties that are increasingly sought out in the aerospace, military, motorsports, robotics, automobile, and energy sectors. Namely, carbon fiber composites, which are made of extremely thin carbon fibers measuring about 5-10 microns in diameter, have a higher strength-to-weight ratio than almost any other manufacturing material. Imagine a conductive 3D printed part that is stronger than steel yet as light as plastic, and with a beautifully smooth surface finish: that’s carbon fiber 3D printing for you.

Right now, however, the main barriers to access are cost, skill requirements, and access to specialized machinery.  According to one report, using carbon fiber rather than steel to assemble automobiles could cut manufacturing costs by as much as 80% due to reduced tooling and simpler assembly, yet those savings are overshadowed by the high cost of the carbon fiber materials themselves, with prices upwards of $16/lb.

As such, a handful of 3D printing companies have been hard at work developing advanced and proprietary technologies to enable more affordable and superior quality carbon fiber 3D printing for the next generation of high-demand industrial manufacturing. Here are some of the strongest players developing carbon fiber 3D printers today:

Arevo Labs

Silicon Valley’s Arevo Labs offers a suite of carbon fiber and Carbon NanoTube (CNT) reinforced 3D printing filaments; the first-ever intelligent cloud-based AM software for precisely controlling carbon fiber orientation; and, in late 2015, it developed a first-of-its-kind FDM-based 3D printing platform, the Robotic Additive Manufacturing Platform, for 3D printing ultra-strong carbon fiber composite parts.

The RAM  platform combines a commercially available 6-axis robotic arm, FDM 3D printing technology, and end-effector hardware to 3D print carbon fiber-reinforced filament

This synergy between proprietary materials, hardware, and software has made Arevo Labs a leader in the field of carbon fiber 3D printing, enabling the production of ultra-strong 3D printed parts for the aerospace, oil and gas, medical, automotive and electronics industries. According to the company, its patent-pending Reinforced Filament Fusion Technology and 3D printers can be adapted to a wide range of applications, while ensuring stronger, lighter, and lower-cost composite parts than any other 3D printing technology.

MarkForged

No doubt the most commercially recognized name in carbon fiber 3D printing is Massachusetts-based MarkForged, which in 2014, introduced the world’s first desktop carbon fiber 3D printer, the Mark One. Not only is it capable of producing carbon fiber 3D printed parts with a higher strength-to-weight ratio than 6061-T6 Aluminum, the Mark One is apparently able to do so up to 90% faster and 70% cheaper compared to traditional methods.

MarkForged’s patented 3D printing technology relies on two print heads: one extrudes nylon filament, while the other continuously reinforces the nylon with proprietary reinforced compoiste materials, including carbon fiber, fiberglass, or even Kevlar. The result is cost-efficient 3D printed parts that can actually displace components that would typically be machined in metal.

MarkForged Mark Two Desktop Carbon Fiber 3D printer

After experiencing a 400% growth in revenue in 2015, MarkForged announced its second-generation machine, the Mark Two. While retaining the same dual-printhead set up as the Mark One, the Mark Two offers 40% faster fiber printing process, the ability to reinforce features 15 times smaller than before, and a number of improvements in software, hardware and materials. Currently, the MarkForged Mark Two industrial 3D strength printer is available for the starting price of $5,499.

Electroimpact

Washington-based Electroimpact has created an advanced Automated Fiber Placement (AFP) machine capable of laying composite carbon fiber materials in excess of 2000 inches per minute on full-size, complex parts. This is an important advancement in aerospace manufacturing, as it will allow Electroimpact to manufacture large-scale composite aircraft components, including wings, spars and even fuselage, which were not previously achievable with traditional AFP technology.

AFP Machine laying fuselage fiber

In order to improve the performance of AFP for large aerospace parts, Electroimpact thoroughly re-designed its machine to account for high axis speeds, longer working axes, and higher lay down rates. The result is a robotic-arm based, multi-machine, modular head AFP device that allows for quickly exchanging heads, tow widths and materials. Two of these high-speed machines have already been purchased by Spirit AeroSystems and will be used to manufacturing a nose section for a large twin-aisle commercial aircraft fuselage, along with a rotator for the fuselage mandrel.

Electroimpact is a global leader in aerospace tooling and automation manufacturing, offering complete automation assembly systems for commercial aircraft wings, robotic assembly systems, and advanced fiber placement machines. Its clients include Airbus, Boeing, Bombardier, Embraer, and many more.

Impossible Objects

Though relatively new in the industry, Chicago-based Impossible Objects is an extremely promising and ambitious startup that is so confident in its composite-based additive manufacturing method, CBAM 3D printing technology, that it believes it could soon replace injection molding altogether.

CBAM produces extremely strong yet lightweight 3D printed parts using carbon fiber, Kevlar, fiberglass and other high-strength composites. In fact, the company claims that it can produce custom parts that are 10x stronger than SLS, FDM, or SLA 3D printed parts, and that it can do so faster than any other existing AM technology or composite lay-up fabrication technique.

 

Graph representing tensile strength (psi)

Currently, Impossible Objects offers CBAM 3D printing services through its in-house manufacturing business, however it is also developing a range of CMAB 3D printing machines for the commercial market.


Though it may still be a while before carbon fiber 3D printing is affordable and accessible enough to truly threaten metal 3D printing, injection molding, or other high-value industrial manufacturing technologies, the possibilities offered by this man-made material are astounding, and it would certainly be worthwhile keeping an eye on throughout the rest of 2016.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printer Company

 

 

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armani perez wrote at 4/20/2016 8:18:55 AM:

Wow this is a very informative article. I am an aspiring graphic artist and its nice to learn such things. thank you for writing this king of write ups and looking forward to bumping into this kinds.



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