Desktop Metal, known for its desktop metal 3D printing technology, is entering the world of plastics today with the launch of Fiber, the first desktop 3D printer to combine miniaturized automated fiber placement (AFP) and fused filament fabrication. Fiber is capable of fabricating high-resolution parts using industrial-grade continuous fiber composite materials used in AFP processes.
The Fiber 3D printer is based upon a technology pioneered by Desktop Metal called micro automated fiber placement (μAFP). The process enables users to print parts from a broad range of plastics with high strength and stiffness. Desktop Metal emphasizes that the printer’s capabilities were previously limited to million-dollar AFP systems
The new 3D printer model, which is expected to ship starting in Spring 2020 (Desktop Metal is already taking orders), offers an affordable solution for printing parts from engineering-grade polymers that have double the strength of steel and one-fifth the weight. This makes the 3D printer ideal for fabricating jigs and fixtures, as well as end-use parts in industries like automotive, electronics, sporting equipment, aviation, consumer goods and more.
“For the first time,” said Ric Fulop, CEO and Co-Founder of Desktop Metal. “Fiber printers combine the material properties of high performance AFP continuous fiber materials with the affordability and speed of a desktop 3D printer.”
The Fiber 3D printer also boasts one of the largest build envelopes of any continuous fiber desktop 3D printer (310 x 240 x 270 mm) and can be networked into print farm configurations of either 6 or 10 units, making it suitable for serial production.
Fiber HT and Fiber LT
Desktop Metal has introduced two versions in the Fiber series: the Fiber HT and Fiber LT. The former is designed to fabricate parts with continuous composites with <1 percent porosity and up to 60% continuous fiber loading with advanced matrix, including PEEK and PEKK. Fiber HT can produce flame retardant parts (with temperature resistance up to 250 degrees Celsius) as well as ESD compliant parts.
Fiber LT, for its part, is a more affordable version of the Fiber technology, which is capable of producing high strength, ESD-compliant components. The printer is designed for using continuous fiber with <5 percent porosity with PA6 thermoplastics.
Both the Fiber HT and Fiber LT are available through a hardware-as-a-service subscription plan, available for a three year minimum. Fiber HT starts at $5,495 per year, while Fiber LT starts at $3,495 per year. The subscription comes with support from Desktop Metal.
Though its main focus up until now has been metal, Desktop Metal has been exploring polymer AM—and specifically composite 3D printing—for some time. The Fiber 3D printer series, which is associated with numerous pending patents, was spearheaded by Dr. Konstantine Fetfatsidis, Vice President of Composite Products for Desktop Metal. Previously, Dr. Fetfatsidis worked as advanced manufacturing R&D lead for Aurora Flight Sciences.
“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,” said Fetfatsidis. “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.”
Stiffer and stronger
The new 3D printer by Desktop Metal is ideal for printing parts with targeted continuous fiber reinforcement along critical load paths, which results in a fully dense fiber core with low porosity (<1% porosity with PEEK and PEKK, and less than 5% with PA6). According to Desktop Metal, 3D printed Fiber parts can be up to 60 times stiffer and 75 times stronger than ABS plastic parts—with 12k tows, up to 60% fiber volume fraction and multi-directional reinforcement.
For this reason, Fiber can be used to produce jigs and fixtures, various end-use parts, as well as any components where lightweighting is a priority, such as wheelchairs and racing equipment.
“Weight is everything in racing,” said Will Turner, President of Turner Motorsport. “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.”
“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,” added David Hauber, Engineering Manager of Trelleborg Sealing Solutions Albany, Inc.
“After more than three decades of development, AM 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.”