Composite 3D printing, and especially carbon fiber 3D printing, is quickly advancing and gaining more applications within the industry. Presently, the number of companies working on composite 3D printing technologies is relatively small—we recently highlighted many of them—though they are all playing their part in pushing forward innovation. One of the bunch, 3D printing leader Stratasys, has honed in on its composite AM technology, especially of late.
The company has announced that it has started shipping an affordable carbon fiber AM system dedicated specifically to carbon-fiber-filled Nylon 12. The machine, the industrial Fortus 380mc Carbon Fiber Edition, is now available for $70,000 and is shipping within the United States. The machine will also be available for €70,000 in EMEA, where it will begin shipping in the next few weeks.
In the U.S., carbon fiber reinforced polymers and their applications are classified as “clean energy technologies,” largely because they can be used to create parts that are lighter in weight than metal, which reduces energy consumption. In cars, for instance, Stratasys reports that every 10% weight reduction results in a 6-8% increase in fuel savings.
Stratasys’ Fortus 380mc CFE isn’t its first foray into carbon composite printing, as the company offered a carbon fiber filled composite material for its high-end production printers—the ones in the $200K-$350K range. With the introduction of its $70K system, the company is aiming to increase the accessibility of its composite technology.
“Our customers are pushing us for easier access to carbon fiber,” commented Pat Carey, Stratasys Senior Vice President of Sales. “They’ve told us they want an affordable solution but in a reliable, industrial-quality system. So we’re now offering a more accessible system that’s based on our Fortus 380mc platform. Because the 380mc CFE is dedicated only to carbon-fiber-filled Nylon 12 and one other material, we’re able to currently offer it at the lowest price for any of our industrial printers.”
The 3D printing company believes that the “quickest” adopters of its new $70K system will be tooling and fixture manufacturers working for the automotive, recreational sport equipment, marine, orthosis and prosthesis, defense, aerospace, medical device and oil and gas industries. The primary (though not exclusive) applications for the printer and carbon-fiber-filled Nylon 12 material are: creating functional prototypes of composite or metal parts, short production runs, fabricating lightweight assembly tools and replacing metal parts with more lightweight composite ones.
Stratasys’ carbon-fiber-filled Nylon 12 material (Nylon 12CF), is similar in its properties to injection molded carbon fiber reinforced polymers, as it contains 35% chopped carbon fiber by weight. When printed, the material has reportedly shown the “highest stiffness-to-weight ratio of any FDM or FFF 3D printed part.”
The Fortus 380mc CFE, for its part, prints carbon fiber composite parts with a layer thickness of 0.254 mm (0.01”) and up to a size of 355 x 305 x 305 mm (14 x 12 x 12”). The machine, according to Stratasys, is also between two and five times faster than competing carbon fiber 3D printers in the same price range. The new 3D printer is also compatible with ASA thermoplastic, and can achieve layer thicknesses of 0.127 mm (0.005”).
The carbon fiber 3D printer also offers water-soluble support material removal, which makes it easier for users to remove supports once a print is complete and enables the creation of complex components.
“For many years, the additive manufacturing industry has seen a need for a diversity of machines that produce parts in high-strength composite materials,” added Terry Wohlers of Wohlers Associates, an AM industry consultancy firm. “I’m hopeful the newest machine from Stratasys will help to meet this need by offering strong parts in carbon fiber and Nylon 12.”
So far, Team Penske has utilized the Fortus 380mc CFE printer and Nylon 12CF to create prototypes and end-use parts for its IndyCar and NASCAR race cars. Excitingly, a Team Penske NASCAR race car will be present alongside the new 3D printer at Stratasys’ IMTS booth in Chicago from September 10 to 15.