Aug 4, 2016 | By Alec

When explaining 3D printing concepts to the uninitiated, there’s always that moment of disappointment when they find out that you can’t actually 3D print functional objects complete with electronics. But that might not be impossible for long, because Idaho-based startup Continuous Composites is working on a revolutionary 3D printing tech that can change 3D printing as we know it. Called Continuous Scaled Manufacturing (CSM), it can rapidly 3D print and cure various fibers, metals and plastics simultaneously to form complete, functional parts at a moment’s notice. A manufacturing revolution is in the making.

It sounds way too good to be true, but Continuous Composites (CC3D) is actually developing this remarkable 3D printing platform. So far, they have already worked with carbon fiber, Kevlar, fiberglass, fiber optics, and continuous copper wire materials using a 3D printing setup with up to 16 different material extruders. And as curing takes place continuously, they are already reaching speeds of up to 90 inches a minute – creating freeform and functional components, complete with circuits and wires, at a moment’s notice.

Copper wires encased in a fiber structure.

The potential of CSM 3D printing is obviously huge. 3D printed wearable consumer electronics and all sorts of industrial applications are already on the Continuous Composites radar which, as the name suggests, can be used for just about anything. However, the company is not quite there yet. As CEO Jeff Beebout revealed, they are currently looking at commercialization options. “We’re past the prototyping and proof-of-concept stage,” he says. “It’s now ready to be developed for market.”

But he and Chief Technology Officer Ken Tyler have really developed a potent platform. Tyler actually came up with the concept back in 2012. Having some 3D printing and CAD experience under his belt already, he was convinced that there had to be a better way to manufacture custom plastic objects. After accidentally stabbing himself with a single strand of cured fiberglass during a boat maintenance project, a new idea was born.

The first patent for this idea was filed in the summer of that year, for fast curing UV thermoset resins and continuous fibers, such as epoxy. These materials have the advantage of changing their molecular shape when cured, forming much stronger bonds than the plastics we are familiar with. In late 2012, the first prototype was developed. Following investments from McAllister Technical Services, the ability to 3D print various functional materials such as copper wire and fiber optics was first achieved back in March of 2016.

The result is a very powerful 3D printing technique with UV light at its core. Fiber strands are continuously extruded and instantly cured with solid molecular bonds – giving the 3D printer the ability to print unique lightweight and strong geometries in free space. What’s more, they are doing so with numerous print heads and a very scalable setup. “Initially printing with a single nozzle we have rapidly improved our process to print with 8 channel and 16 channel nozzles utilizing different material combinations including novel combinations of copper wire and fiber optics,” its developers say.

But even more impressive is CSM’s speed which, the Idaho-based startup says, will leave competitors eating their dust. In fact, CSM could be up to 10 times faster than its nearest competitor. “Right now, we’re maxing out at 90 inches a minute,” Tyler says. “But we should easily be able to print at up to 1,200 inches a minute. Our product is our process.” What’s more, as multiple materials are 3D printed simultaneously, assembly could become a thing of the past. “That’ll be the thing that excites people: when they see 16 print heads create a building in one day,” Tyler says. “It’s something we’ll be able to do in the next few years if things keep going well.”

Finally, their CSM 3D printing tech does away with the constraints of layer-based 3D printing. “With this unique process, the print head travels along the tubular path created from within for a zero form factor printing path providing a swarm bot approach to additive manufacturing. Our tubular manufacturing concepts create the ability to print a seamless tube of virtually endless length and directions,” Tyler explains. This obviously paves the way for a far wider range of geometric possibilities.

You don’t need to be a dreamer to imagine what CC3D’s technology could be used for. Especially the ability to combine functional and very strong materials in any shape paves the way for a new generation of electronics. “We can embed and print with continuous strands of conductive material that are capable of carrying high current. We can print with fiber optics directly in our composite parts for applications such as an active strain gauge for sensing stress or fractures across the part in real time,” Tyler says.

Among others, they are thinking about intelligent IoT devices, complete with conductive materials and insulation, but also about aerospace and automotive applications. Even custom-woven ballistics armor can be found among their targets. “There are many different iterations of our technology that are suited to different industry needs. Our goal as a company is to collaborate with industry leaders and provide them with new solutions,” Tyler says. “There are many aspects of our technology that make it the best choice for creating large functional parts. From an aircraft wing to a skyscraper, the world will start to see a new type of manufacturing process that will be more efficient, faster and safer.”

So what’s next for Continuous Composites and their paradigm-shifting tech? Right now, the startup validating their technology while simultaneously looking at collaboration possibilities with existing companies to bring their technology to market. They have already received significant interest from several Fortune 100 companies, but have not decided whether they will license their technology or sell it themselves. But one thing is certain: we’ve never been so close to replicating complete objects at a moment’s notice, Star Trek style. Could this be the future of additive manufacturing?



Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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Troy wrote at 8/7/2016 12:10:54 PM:

Shit making machine

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