For over a century, Setforge (part of the Farinia Group) has been forging and machining high-volume, precision metal components for demanding industries like automotive and aerospace. However, to maintain leadership and adapt to changing times, the company has invested in technology that will enable it to design and produce high-performance carbon fiber-reinforced composite parts rapidly and cost-effectively in order to replace steel, aluminum, and titanium at a significantly lower mass. To facilitate the expansion into advanced composites, Setforge was an early partner with hybrid manufacturing solution OEM 9T Labs AG (Zürich, Switzerland) and now starts screening for new serial part applications to be produced on its Red Series Additive Fusion SolutionTM platform located in l’Hormes, France.
“We chose their Red Series Additive Fusion Solution platform, which is an all-in-one solution combining software, hardware, and support. The Fibrify software enables us to design the parts with fiber that we can place only where needed. And it’s directly linked with commercially available structural simulation software. The combination of additive manufacturing and molding is unique. We can offer structural parts that are reproducible and also cost-competitive. 9T Labs’ expertise in composites helps us to identify the right application and to design load-tailored parts easily. We can even place metal inserts if needed before we densify the fibers and reduce porosity. We end up with finished, net-shape parts with high fiber ratios and low porosity that carry four-times higher specific load than steel.”, explained Damien Felix, R&D Project Manager at Setforge.
9T Labs’ hybrid advanced manufacturing technology enables high-performance structural parts — in challenging small-to-medium size and thick sections — to be produced in carbon fiber-reinforced thermoplastic composites in production volumes ranging from 100 to 10,000 parts/year. By combining 3D printing (which offers unexcelled design freedom, part complexity, and control of fiber orientation) with compression molding in matched metal dies (providing rapid cycle times, high production rates, excellent surface finishes with low voids, plus high repeatability and reproducibility (R&R)), the hybrid production system offers the best of both additive and conventional/subtractive manufacturing.
“You may ask ‘What is the market usefulness of parts that can be produced near-net shape, with a unique weight to performance ratio due to carbon fibers, and with higher mechanical performance than from other high-speed carbon fiber processes?’” mused Didier Henry, Director of Setforge. “The answer is any market dominated by aluminum and titanium, or everywhere massive (strong) and lightweight parts are valuable. These parts will even be of interest to replace other composite parts that have to be improved, lightened, and made stronger”.
As it sets up its first carbon composite additive manufacturing production capability from 9T Labs, Setforge will be able to produce up to 5,000 carbon composite parts per year in sizes up to 350mm x 270mm x 250mm. As capacity ramps up in 2023 and beyond, Setforge expects to be able to produce 100,000 parts/year and to extend part dimensions.
“With the Red Series, we want to propose to replace metal parts with composites for our current markets like automotive or aerospace, but we also want to propose innovative solutions for new markets to us — for example, luxury, sports, medical, exoskelet (wearable ergonomic lift-assist systems), and drones,” said Damien Felix.
The company’s patented Red Series Additive Fusion Solution platform consists of a Build Module (3D printer providing fiber layup and preform production) and a Fusion Module (compact compression press providing preform consolidation and final part forming). The hardware is supported by the 9T Labs’ Fibrify design suite. This software allows CAD files to be imported, part design and fiber layups optimized, then moved into major commercial structural analysis programs to verify structural performance. This eliminates the costly and time-consuming “make & break” cycle of designing parts, producing and testing prototypes, and further modifying designs to more closely meet performance and cost targets. In turn, this helps manufacturers bring parts to market faster and at a lower cost.
“We are proud to support a venerable yet innovative company like Setforge as they begin manufacturing carbon composite parts,” added Giovanni Cavolina, 9T Labs co-founder and chief commercial officer. “We started 9T Labs with a passion to mass-produce high-performance composites as easily as metals. We have found Setforge to be just as passionate about disruptive manufacturing of high-performance parts.”
Together, the system can rapidly, efficiently, consistently, and cost-effectively produce structural parts with heretofore unmatched levels of complexity in advanced (carbon-fiber-reinforced) thermoplastic composites for initial prototyping through to high-volume manufacturing. Thanks to the use of proven industry-standard materials — in high performance neat (unreinforced) and carbon-fiber-reinforced polyamide 12 (PA12), polyphenylene sulfide (PPS), polyether ketone ketone (PEKK), and Polyetheretherketone (PEEK) — lightweight, structural composite parts capable of replacing metals in challenging environments can be produced affordably with very-low waste, an excellent buy-to-fly ratio, and high levels of R&R. Since the thermoplastic matrices may be melt reprocessed, scrap material and parts can be recycled, and multiple 3D-printed subassemblies can be welded together during the Fusion step.