Dec 15, 2017 | By Tess

Engineers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology (IPT) in Aachen, Germany are developing an innovative method for providing 3D printed parts with the load-bearing strength of injection molded components. The project, which is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), is called “LightFlex.”

The LightFlex research initiative came about from a need to develop customized load-bearing parts. Currently, most load-bearing components are still made using injection molding processes, which are capable of combining plastic materials with fiber-reinforced polymers for the necessary strength.

The downside to using injection molding, however, is that parts must be mass manufactured to make up for the high tooling costs, which means that most load bearing components on the market are standardized and thus not always suitable for customized applications.

Additive manufacturing, on the other hand, offers the benefits of making bespoke parts without expensive tooling costs, but is still limited in terms of the strength and durability it can provide for parts. This inevitably limits how the technology can be used to produce load-bearing parts.

With LightFlex, however, the German researchers have proposed an innovative method that could enable the 3D printing of customized load-bearing parts without having to sacrifice strength.

The process essentially consists of 3D printing a customized shape using standard AM technologies, and then reinforcing that shape with a sheet of fiber-reinforced plastic, also known as Organo sheets.

The Organo sheets are cut using Fraunhofer IPT’s proprietary PrePro system, which is capable of cutting the exact shape and size necessary for reinforcing the 3D printed part. The PrePro system, the researcher say, helps to minimize waste and “leads to significant savings in the carbon fibers produced with high energy expenditure.”

(Images: Fraunhofer IPT)

Once the fiber-reinforced plastic is cut to size, it can be joined to the 3D printed structure using a thermoforming process, though the researchers still seem to be investigating the best way to combine the two products.

“The Aachen-based scientists continuously collect process data for the two components to be joined during production and aligned with each other. The goal is to return feedback to production on the basis of immediate analyzes. Thus, a digital shadow of the entire process chain can ensure a consistently high quality of the manufactured component,” said the researchers in a statement.

With the implementation of the institute’s LightFlex system, manufacturers would be able to 3D print small-batch load-bearing parts or even make adjustments and last-minute changes to a part’s design during the prototyping stage without having to lose out on its strength capacity.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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