A new printer from Desktop Metal miniaturizes automated fiber placement and combine it with Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF).
BURLINGTON, Mass.—Fiber™, a 3D printer recently launched by Desktop Metal, is reported to be the first desktop 3D printer to fabricate high resolution parts with industrial grade, continuous fiber composite materials used in automated fiber placement (AFP) processes. Based on a new process called micro automated fiber replacement (µAFP), users can print parts with a superior level of strength and stiffness and in a broad range of materials—outcomes that that traditionally required million- dollar AFP systems, Desktop Metal said in a press release.
The new platform is said to produce parts using materials that are two times stronger than steel at one-fifth the weight. Fiber printers feature one of the largest build envelopes of any continuous fiber desktop printer, the company said, and are designed to be arranged in print farm configurations of six or 10 printers.
“For the first time, Fiber printers combine the material properties of high performance AFP continuous fiber materials with the affordability and speed of a desktop 3D printer,” said Ric Fulop, CEO and co-founder of Desktop Metal, in the release.
Fiber is reported to be the first continuous fiber desktop printer to miniaturize AFP technology, typically found in the highest end carbon fiber production processes, and combine it with Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF), the most widely-used 3D printing technology. The printer uses a robotic tool changer architecture for future expandability and is capable of storing up to four tools, including additional FFF heads for different materials or future enhancements, such as automated in-process inspection.
The Fiber print platform is available in two models, Fiber HT and Fiber LT, through a hardware-as-a-service subscription plan.
Fiber HT is designed to produce parts with continuous composites having less than 1 percent porosity and up to 60 percent continuous fiber loading with advanced matrix, including PEEK and PEKK. It can make flame retardant parts to withstand high temperatures up to 250 degrees Celsius, in addition to ESD compliant parts, the company said. Fiber HT starts at $5,495 per year.
Fiber LT is described by Desktop Metal as “an affordable way to produce high strength, ESD compliant, non-marring parts using continuous fiber with less than 5 percent porosity with PA6 thermoplastics.” Fiber LT starts at $3,495 per year.
With one of the largest build volumes offered in a continuous fiber 3D desktop printer (310 x 240 x 270 millimeters), the Fiber HT and Fiber LT are designed to combine the benefits of 3D printing with continuous fiber materials that are qualified for high-performance applications.
According to Desktop Metal, that means stiffer, stronger parts.
Parts printed on Fiber feature targeted continuous fiber reinforcement along critical load paths to build a fully dense fiber core with exceptionally low porosity (less than1 percent porosity with PEEK and PEKK, and less than five percent with PA6). Featuring 12k tows, up to 60 percent fiber volume fraction, and multi-directional reinforcement with user-defined tow placement, the resulting parts are reported to be up to 60 times stiffer and 75 times stronger than ABS plastic parts.
Another benefit is an extensive continuous composites material library, including high temperature thermoplastics. Fiber offers engineers a large selection of composite materials for a desktop printer, starting with a chopped carbon-fiber filled Nylon (PA6) that is ESD-compliant, and a chopped fiberglass filled Nylon (PA6). The materials library also includes chopped carbon-fiber filled PEEK and PEKK filaments that are said to provide excellent mechanical properties and chemical resistance, and yield parts that can withstand continuous operation in high temperatures relative to other thermoplastics. Each of these materials can be reinforced with continuous carbon or glass fiber. This wide portfolio of materials is designed for versatility to support a broad set of industrial applications, the company said.
Composite parts can be indispensable for manufacturers during the early design stages of prototyping, as well as for critical end-use parts that require high stiffness and fast lead-times over machined counterparts. They benefit a variety of industries, from manufacturing, tooling, and automotive to consumer electronics, sporting goods, medical, education/research, and marine. Among their key applications are jigs and fixtures, including robotic end effectors, CNC soft jaws, laser etching fixtures for medical tools, ESD, and fixtures for manufacturing; end-use parts, including automotive, electronics, consumer goods such as racing bicycles, marine, aviation, and machine design; and components where lightweighting is critical for performance, such as wheelchairs and sports racing equipment.
“Despite all the advantages, polymer-based AM has been lacking in the strength needed for high performance applications, specifically a technology that bridges the gap between existing AM technology and automated fiber placement of high-performance composites as used in industry,” said David Hauber, engineering manager of Trelleborg Sealing Solutions, Albany, Inc., “After more than three decades of development, [additive manufacturing] has finally reached a tipping point. With Desktop Metal’s new AM technology, engineers will be able to print industrial quality, continuous fiber reinforced composite structures.
“This breakthrough technology now offers the ability to print continuous fiber reinforcement with high fiber volumes and high Z-axis strength. These benefits are combined with high resolution printing and beautiful surface finishes that give users flexibility in how they can cost-effectively design and manufacture high performance composite structures.”
Mel Clauson, director of business development at Composite Resources, Inc., said that he is “excited about the possibility of working with a desktop 3D printer that utilizes continuous carbon fiber thermoplastic composites.”
“This machine and material format will greatly improve the stability and durability of shop fixtures produced over existing plastic printers. Additionally, the potential for the Fiber printer to produce low-touch, labor fly-away parts should provide the opportunity for a wide range of industrial composite manufacturers, he said.”
Turner Motorsport President Will Turner also weighed in. “Weight is everything in racing. Being able to replace critical metal components with 3D printed continuous fiber means we can retain the strength of metal while lowering the overall weight of the car—making it even faster and more competitive,” he said.
Numerous patents are pending. The technical effort is led by Dr. Konstantine Fetfatsidis, vice president of composite products for Desktop Metal. He was previously the advanced manufacturing R&D lead for Aurora Flight Sciences, a Boeing company.
“As a long-time user of multi-million dollar AFP technology for various development-to-production aerostructures programs, I am excited to bring AFP technology to the manufacturing floor for smaller, more complex parts,” Fetfatsidis said. “This new print technology finally brings the material properties of AFP composites to small parts under 20 pounds, which would typically require expensive tooling, extensive manual labor, multiple consumables, and multi-step, long process cycles.”
Fiber printers are available to order at www.desktopmetal.com/fiber, as well as through the company’s reseller network. They are scheduled to ship in Spring 2020.