Across industrial sectors and the broader manufacturing world, composites are gaining prominence for their enhanced material properties and cost efficiency. Additive manufacturing, for its part, is poised to radically transform how these materials are used compared to highly labor-intensive conventional methods. At this junction of composite materials and additive manufacturing are JuggerBot 3D, an Ohio-based industrial 3D printer manufacturer, and materials developer DSM Additive Manufacturing (now part of Covestro).
In recent years, the companies have forged a partnership that not only seeks to elevate JuggerBot 3D’s FFF and FGF printing hardware and Covestro’s material portfolio, but also to boost the overall adoption and use of composite 3D printing by demonstrating to end users the benefits of the technology. We had the chance to talk to JuggerBot 3D Vice President Dan Fernback about the fruitful collaboration as well as about an upcoming webinar they are hosting, which will delve into the world of high-performance composite materials for AM.
Reinforcing a collaboration
Interestingly, when JuggerBot 3D and DSM first came together, composite materials were not their main focus. At the time, JuggerBot 3D was developing its industrial 3D printing platforms and DSM was preparing to expand its materials portfolio with 3D printing filaments, pellets, and powders.
Fernback explains how the partnership was born: “Before we officially launched our first 3D printer on the market, I was introduced to Greg Costantino through a mutual friend. Greg was working with DSM’s Engineering Plastics business at the time and was helping a colleague evaluate 3D printing strategies for what is now the company’s filament, pellet and powder portfolio.
“DSM was planning to leverage its expertise in engineering-grade plastics to offer a broader variety of 3D printing materials, while JuggerBot 3D was preparing to introduce material-agnostic, industrial 3D printers that were specifically designed to process the kind of materials DSM had to offer. There was a very natural alignment between our companies and we agreed that collaboration would be beneficial in product and business development, while also offering a more complete solution to our respective customers.”
This initial meeting eventually led to the launch of a trial program in 2018, which gave prospective users access to the companies’ in-depth knowledge of filament materials and 3D printing as well as hands-on experience with each. From there, the companies continued to evolve in tandem, focusing not only on engineering-grade filament 3D printing but also increasingly on pellet-based AM and fiber-reinforced composites.
Since the partners got started, the portfolio has grown with over half of DSM’s current FFF and FGF portfolio made up of composites.
Filaments or pellets, that is the question
Before diving into the various composite applications that JuggerBot 3D and DSM’s products can be used for, it is first important to look at their respective offerings. One of the main things to understand is that both companies work with filament and pellet 3D printing (JuggerBot 3D supplying the hardware and DSM the materials). Both approaches have distinctive benefits and are suitable for different needs.
“One key difference between pellets and filament for high-strength composites is the amount of reinforcement,” Fernback explains. “With filaments, you’re limited to 15-20% loading for fibers, because as you add fibers into the thermoplastic, it becomes more brittle, which makes it harder and harder to spool as well as more difficult to process in a 3D printer. With pellets, the material can have two to three times as much reinforcement compared to filaments. In that case, materials are that much stronger and stiffer and could be that much more resistant to heat, etc. It elevates the performance of these materials in ways that are not possible with traditional composite 3D printing and therefore opens up new opportunities to applications with higher performance requirements.”
Today, DSM’s Fused Granulate Fabrication (FGF) portfolio consists of three key composites: Arnilene® AM6001 GF (G), Arnite® AM8527 (G) and EcoPaXX® AM4001 GF (G). Its FFF portfolio includes composite Novamid® ID1030 CF10, a carbon fiber filled PA6/66 copolymer filament. In addition to filament and pellet materials, DSM’s portfolio includes resins for stereolithography and DLP 3D printing and powders for selective laser sintering.
In deciding whether to use fused filament fabrication or fused granulate fabrication, JuggerBot 3D works with customers to evaluate their applications. “The things we generally look at are what material is required, the size of part, the complexity of the design and the tolerances that are needed. The advantages of filament 3D printing include producing parts with finer features and often better aesthetic properties. The advantages of pellet 3D printing include wider access to higher performing (often cheaper) materials and much faster printing. FGF is thus typically better suited to larger parts.”
He continues: “We work very closely with customers to provide a full solution. Specifically in our work with DSM, we strive to find the right material and printer combination, providing support for print settings, part designs and even post-processing.”
The Tradesman Series™
In 2020, JuggerBot 3D launched industrial-grade AM systems for both FFF and FGF 3D printing. The Tradesman Series™, which comprises the F3-32 for filament-based materials, and the P3-44 for pellet extrusion, is suitable for large-format, industrial 3D printing using a wide range of materials, including DSM’s chopped fiber composites.
The 3D printer series is notable for integrating several features that enable optimized 3D printing of engineering materials, including fiber-filled thermoplastics. “Functional materials and high-strength composites kind of go hand in hand,” Fernback says. “In both cases it is really important to ensure quality parts and reliability and to eliminate any environmental irregularities.
“This means drying the material adequately before printing, keeping that material dry throughout the printing process, having extruders that can achieve a consistent melt flow and having a bed that provides adequate first layer adhesion and protects against warping. Most importantly, the printers must have a humidity and temperature controlled build environment to promote optimal bond adhesion between layers and uniform cooling. Our Tradesman Series does that.”
One of the interesting things about the Tradesman Series™ and composite materials is that the addition of chopped fibers can actually improve the printability of certain functional thermoplastics. “Composites can actually alleviate some of the challenges of processing higher performing materials because they generally have lower CTEs” Fernback explains. “For example, we could print a 20% fiber reinforced high-temperature material without any issues, whereas the unfilled material might be more of a challenge.”
The Tradesman Series™ is based on an open materials platform, meaning that users can work with thermoplastic filaments and pellets of their choice. Because of its partnership with DSM , however, users can benefit from pre-qualified process parameters to start their printing quickly and with confidence.
“One of the benefits of working with DSM is that we can identify good starting points for our customers,” Fernback says. “For example, if someone wants to print EcoPaXX AM4001 GF (G), we can suggest process parameters for their application using our Tradesman Series™ P3-44. They can then use those process parameters or, if they need, tweak them to improve process or part performance.”
Transforming composite applications
The combination of JuggerBot 3D’s industrial AM systems and DSM’s composite 3D printing materials has created opportunities for many industries and a vast array of applications. Fernback highlights five key industries where printed composites have the potential to be most disruptive: aerospace, marine, medical, electronics and energy. These are all industries that have implemented conventional composite manufacturing and could benefit from 3D printing.
A key application group across all these industries is tooling and, specifically, composite molding. In other words, composite 3D printed materials are well suited for manufacturing molds for more conventional composite production. “One of the prime applications in tooling for composite materials is composite molding,” Fernback specifies. “It can be used to facilitate the adoption of traditional composite manufacturing processes. Tooling is also the quickest way to realize value in many cases, largely because it does not require a philosophical change to how business is done. We’re still using a tool, we’re just using a more effective means to build it, which means it costs less and has faster turnaround times.”
Composite 3D printing is also well suited to producing end-use parts, and can enable new part geometries and designs. End-use applications include structural components for construction, components for medical equipment like MRIs and CT scanners, shielding for electrical systems, plumbing and mechanical parts and more. Moreover, AM has the advantage of lower upfront costs and greater agility. In such cases—and especially for pellet extrusion which is suited to fast, large parts—CNC machining and other post-processing techniques can come into play to achieve tighter tolerances and higher quality surface finishes.
“I’m very bullish on the impact 3D printing and composites will have together. 3D printing, especially pellet 3D printing, helps reduce the cost of traditional composite manufacturing while improving the response time and design of composite parts. Composite materials, on the other hand, help improve the performance of 3D printed parts, therefore creating new applications and value in the manufacturing world.”
Tune in this May
To further illustrate the unique advantages of composite 3D printing, JuggerBot 3D and DSM will be hosting a webinar, “Additive Manufacturing Trends: Printing High Strength Composites”, on May 20, 2021 at 11am EDT. The online event is part of the partners’ larger collaboration for promoting the adoption of composites and industrial AM.
“We have trial programs with Covestro, we author design guides for filament 3D printing and pellet 3D printing, and we’re constantly putting out educational content and offering services, like the webinar coming up this May,” Fernback says. “At this event, we’re really going to focus on what makes a high strength composite for 3D printing and how to define it. We’ll be taking a deep dive into both the material side and the 3D printing side to provide an example for the kind of work we do and what is available through our trial program.”
You can register for the free online event on May 20, 2021 here.