Mar 19, 2017 | By Max

3D printing expert E3D achieved a major industry milestone last year with the release of its newest filament, Scaffold. Scaffold can be completely dissolved in water, which makes it an ideal support material for 3D printing projects. Their latest experiments have demonstrated its further potential for 3D printing molds, which were used to create some impressive parts and objects out of composite materials.

E3D’s Scaffold filament was designed to tackle the problem of overhanging edges in 3D printed objects. Designs for 3D printing are limited due to the inability to print overhangs beyond a certain angle. In general, the same filament material used for the main object is used to provide support for the overhang during the 3D printing process, then removed. This often leaves imperfect surfaces and other structural problems in the finished object. Scaffold was optimised to be used as a support material, due to its solubility allowing for incredibly easy removal. This solubility also makes it an ideal material for 3D printing core molds, i.e. internal molds that are used to create the shape of a hollow object. E3D wanted to test this application of Scaffold further, examining its potential for use in the production of objects made from composite materials.

Composites are regularly used in manufacturing due to their improved material properties. A composite material such as Kevlar, for example, is used for bulletproof vests due to its being both extremely strong and relatively light. Ceramics and fiberglass are two other commonly used composite materials. In this case, E3D was experimenting with making objects out of carbon fiber.

The method used was to 3D print a core mold for a particular object with Scaffold filament, which was then covered in layers of carbon fiber, pre-impregnated with a special resin. Placing the mold and the carbon fiber inside a vacuum bag, the team then used a vacuum pump to completely remove any air and allow the carbon fiber to set. Finally, the whole thing was placed in warm water overnight, to dissolve the Scaffold mold and leave just the finished object behind.

E3D used this method to produce a miniature wing part, of the kind used for a radio-controlled plane, with great success. The wing’s geometry was close to perfectly rendered, with only the surface finish quality being slightly less than expected. The team went on to develop the wing further. A set of ribs for the wing were printed, then glued into the mold using PVA, so that they could be embedded in the final part. The same carbon fiber molding process was used, and the wing produced was just as impressive as the first, both in terms of geometry and structural integrity.

According to E3D, this demonstrated the possibility for Scaffold to be used in the production of composite parts that have functional or even mechanical components embedded within them. Manufacturing such complex parts using only a single extrusion 3D printing method is something that has been thought of as difficult or even impossible to do.

For a more advanced project, E3D enlisted the help of So3D, a bespoke 3D printing company that also has significant expertise in the use of composites. The result was a vase-like object made of carbon fiber, with impressively elaborate twisted geometry and structural features. According to E3D, traditional methods such as CNC milling or injection molding would have required a six-part machined mold for this object, costing thousands of dollars to make and several weeks to produce.

Not only was this last object produced more quickly, more cheaply, and more easily than would have been possible without 3D printing techniques and E3D’s Scaffold 3D printer filament, the environmental impact was also drastically reduced. Far from just adding warm water, the removal of core molds usually requires the use of harmful chemical solvents that require industrial disposal.

Taking into account the impressive results already achieved by E3D with very limited resources and skills, we can only hope that more companies become aware of the exciting possibilites Scaffold presents for the future of manufacturing with composites, and for the industry in general.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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