Continuous Composites teamed up with robotics giant Comau and software giant Autodesk to demonstrate a real-time digital manufacturing cell that combines virtual sensors, intelligent design software and Continuous Composites’ patented CF3D (Continuous Fiber 3D Printing) Technology.
The work cell uses rapid-curing continuous fibers and high-speed robotics to produce strong, lightweight factory-ready parts on demand. Practical examples include a series of industrial parts ranging from a large airfoil to B-pillars and multi-tier bridges printed in free-space unsupported without fasteners.
This breakthrough manufacturing solution demonstrates a fundamental shift in manufacturing where the three companies have leveraged their respective competencies to develop a flexible manufacturing system that can cost-effectively create lightweight, high-strength objects with embedded functionality including fiber optic sensors, LED illumination and copper wire for powering electronics.
As such, the 3D printed composite structures are able to sense themselves in real-time and react to environmental stimuli. The system, which combines the factory-proven performance of Comau robotics with Autodesk’s advanced-intelligence design software and Continuous Composite’s Continuous Fiber 3D Printing (CF3D) technology, can print structural and functional elements without the need for molds, supports, autoclaves, fasteners or the trimming of excess material.
As a result, complex designs developed from Autodesk’s AI driven design software can now be manufactured and the anisotropic properties of continuous fiber materials can be fully leveraged to optimize load paths. The exceptional trajectory control and high repeatability of Comau robots, together with the instantaneous curing of the thermoset resins used in CF3D, enables the system to rapidly print unsupported, large complex structures through free space, tubes, multi-layer carbon fiber panels and free space bridges with any continuous fiber material.
What’s more, the Autodesk design software interface explores all the possible variations of a project, while taking the key performance parameters into consideration, to optimize the best possible solution. Unlike traditional composite manufacturing techniques, which are highly labor intensive and require the use of molds, ovens, autoclaves, fasteners, supports, expensive pre-pregged fibers; the new system is both more flexible and less expensive. And because the continuous fiber is instantly cured as it is discharged using a 3D printing process, there is no need for trimming and no wasted materials.
Finally, the solution can print large-scale structures as easily as complex pieces thanks to the ability to quickly attach multiple types of end-effectors to the Comau robot, making it highly effective for a wide range of industrial applications. Within a working factory, this solution will allow companies to produce strong, lightweight factory-ready parts on demand, thus ensuring higher productivity, fewer bottlenecks and lower overall costs.
Direct benefits include the ability to combines the power of composite materials using robotics and 3D printing process to print complex composite structures – complete with power, lighting, sensors and more – in a single step. The high-speed, high-precision solution reduces manufacturing costs while eliminating material waste and the need for fasters and supports. Instantaneous, UV-cure thermoset resins support high-speed, moldless printing for an unlimited number of industrial applications. The process reduces procurement time, allow for design adjustments and increase the potential for functionality improvements. Finally, embedded functional capabilities allow printed parts to sense and respond to external stimuli.