We've covered several attempts to adapt additive manufacturing techniques to low-volume aerospace and automotive manufacturing, as well as ongoing work in producing carbon composite materials and processes better suited to commercial aircraft. Now Stratasys wants to bring both together to speed up the production of composite components.
A joint development initiative between Stratasys and the US Department of Energy (DOE) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory aims to develop Stratasys's fused deposition modeling (FDM) process for making production volumes of carbon fiber composite components entirely out of autoclave. The collaboration has two goals: the development of carbon fiber reinforced FDM feedstocks and the creation of in-process inspection methods to assure part quality.
A revolutionary joint development initiative between Stratasys and Oak Ridge National Laboratory aims to develop the fused deposition modeling process, shown here in Stratasys' Fortus 900mc, for making high-quality production volumes of carbon fiber composite components. (Source: Stratasys)
The DOE wants to reduce US industrial energy usage and revitalize manufacturing competitiveness. Additive manufacturing can help accomplish both, since the processes produce less material waste and don't require investments in tooling.
Researchers trying to achieve production FDM face several challenges, Jeff DeGrange, vice president of direct digital manufacturing for Stratasys, told us. "The machines have to be faster and more reliable. For manufacturing applications, you need additional closed-loop controls to ensure quality products, in terms of repeatedly meeting the same dimensional and mechanical requirements. And instead of performing external tests after a product comes out of the machine, it's better to do them inside via in situ controls."
Stratasys had begun pursing some of these materials and process improvement goals on its own, said DeGrange. But producing new composite materials and in-process inspection methods under the Oak Ridge agreement will require certain intellectual property agreements. The three-year program has major milestones to be met at one year, one-and-a-half years, two years, and three years.
Jim, thanks for that very specific injection molding example. Since Stratasys and Oak Ridge are at the beginning of the 3D-produced carbon composites research project, they're still defining parameters and performance targets. In composite manufacturing, there are a lot of variables and everything's contextual.
Recalling a particularly high-volume job I once designed, being a fully-automated 2-cavity, injection molding operation which produced a thin-walled plastic cell-phone housing at a molding cycle time of about 20 seconds ,,,,, That's 6 parts/minute.
So the point raised about production molding cycle time vs FDM cycle time is a very valid point; and that 2 cavity example was a run-rate that I truly doubt any deposition process could ever match, (let alone, exceed).
But the tool cost of that set-up was around $280,000 as I recall, and the deposition process set-up is nearly zero by comparison; so we need to remember all of the variables in the equation for economy.
I applaud and eagerly watch the FDM experiments advance.
Since they're working on both materials and processes, like those researching non-3D assembly, the material will most likely not involve resins that need to be cured. Many of the attempts at automating carbon fiber composite production are either developing much faster-drying resins, or avoiding them entirely. Regarding increasing speed, well, that's the main point of this research.
A lot depends on how much, fast it can put material down. Unless very quick or only 1-3 units needed, it's going to be hard to beat using molds either either hand or machin layup.
Now with the mold making by machine/Cad, making a mold costs little inhouse leaving little start up costs in that technic.
Whether it needs an autoclave depends on the resin chosen mostly.
But even their the mold can be designed to be heated so spray fibered resin by hand or machine and be it's own autoclave taking little more room. It's how I normally handle faster curing. Since most curing produce their own heat just insulation could do with many resins.
The range of printed items from so many new materials including metals will change a lot of things but is likely too slow compared to well done mass production, at least for now.
Jim, considering all the hassles involved, not to mention costs, of producing carbon composites and all the R&D being pursued for faster, cheaper production methods, it boggles the mind that we could simply solve the problem by making them with FDM. But why not? This project is aiming not just dollars but some pretty creative and experienced brains at the problem. Maybe you're right: if we can solve this problem, then maybe FDM can be applied to a lot of other materials not considered before for AM techniques.
Really a fantastic concept, Ann. When I think back to the first days of rapid prototyping and remember wondering "who came up with the idea of solidifying liquid polymer with a laser?" Then, I look at this technology effort and am confident that it, too, will succeed as just one more example in our human journey of discovery. The explanation of the spindle-like carbon fibers being delivered via a filament brought a pretty clear image of intent, and I don't doubt they will eventually accomplish their goal. What a fantastic thought, really; perhaps we can eventually FDM virtually any material?
Yes, TJ, that's one of the biggest deals about this project. Autoclave ovens are big, expensive and slow. Getting rid of them in one way or another is one of the goals behind several different research projects on speeding up carbon composite production, including this one we reported on earlier this year: http://www.designnews.com/document.asp?doc_id=239474 "Out of autoclave" is to composite production a bit like "Open sesame" was for Aladdin trying to open the cave.
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