By Micah Chaban, vice president of sales and marketing, RapidMade, Inc.
The technologies related to 3D printing are growing and changing quickly. Some of the biggest trends in the industry include a diversifying 3D printing landscape, a wider range of application-specific materials, the growth of high-temperature polymers in 3D printing, and composite additive manufacturing. As a result, there has been an increased demand for 3D printing capabilities that can create lightweight plastic parts that have the strength of metal. This demand has come amidst an accelerated need for small, detailed parts that are commonly found in consumer goods which has spurred interest in hybrid nylon and carbon fiber 3D printing.
The role of carbon fiber in 3D printing
Carbon fiber has played a major role in traditional manufacturing since the 1960s; however, it is still relatively new to additive manufacturing. When carbon fiber is fused with other materials, such as Nylon, it serves to strengthen the characteristics of those materials, helping to broaden their applications, without adding unwanted product weight.
Now, 3D printed nylon laminated with carbon fiber is making it possible to achieve metal-like strength with the lightweight properties of 3D printing components.
What does the research show?
Researchers and developers have been working to find a composite material that provides the strength of metal with a weight that is similar to plastic. In 3D printed nylon laminated with select reinforcing fibers, they have found exactly that. In testing that focused on structural component designs and pilot manufacturing processes, some of the key results of 3D printed nylon reinforced with carbon fiber include:
• The manufacturing process was less expensive when compared to alternative materials
• The lead time was reduced, allowing manufacturers to change designs quickly
• The strength of these unique parts was comparable to metal
• Warp and residual stresses were controlled, confirming this material’s durability
• The anisotropy of plastic parts was eliminated
Clearly, 3D printed nylon laminated with carbon fiber has shown promise.
The benefits of 3D carbon fiber printing with Nylon
There are a number of materials that can be used in additive manufacturing. With this in mind, why use carbon fiber? Why use nylon? There are several benefits of 3D printed nylon reinforced with select fibers such as carbon and basalt. Some of the main benefits include:
Lightweight: 3D printed nylon chemically bonded to carbon fiber is an incredibly light material. This means that it will not add the same degree of stress to manufactured tools, will enable larger composite parts, and other structures that might otherwise have a weight limit.
Strong: While plastic is light, it is not as strong as 3D printed nylon laminated with reinforcing fibers such as carbon. Normally, part weight and strength are competing attributes. This is where nylon bonded to reinforcing fibers shine. They have advantages in both categories that can revolutionize the way manufacturing leverages 3D printing technologies.
Versatile: 3D printed nylon laminated with select fibers is incredibly versatile. This composite is useful for functional prototypes and end-use parts, particularly if they require metal-like strength. This is one of the main advantages of nylon bonded with fibers like basalt and carbon.
Resistance: Finally, 3D printed nylon-fiber laminates also resists many environmental stresses, including corrosion, heat, and chemicals. Metal and plastic are not able to stand up to these stresses as well as nylon and reinforcing fibers.
These are a few of the main advantages of 3D printed nylon-fiber composites.
Novel applications in the world of 3D printing
Clearly, 3D printed nylon bonded with carbon fiber can enhance the strength of 3D printed parts without adding a tremendous amount of weight. While this composite is a great option for a variety of manufacturing applications, there are several other novel uses thanks to the ability to print strong, affordable, lightweight parts. These include:
• Test drive prototype parts: These unique 3D printed components can be used in the automotive industry to generate 3D printed parts for prototypes. Then, they can be road tested, helping automakers expedite the prototype vehicle production. These cutting-edge developments in 3D printing materials and techniques can reduce the amount of time it takes for auto manufacturers to get stronger, safer, and advanced cars on the road.
• Expansions agriculture: Agricultural machinery is large, expensive, and complex, an assembly of smaller, unique, computerized parts. The ability to produce robust, affordable, detailed composite parts can accelerate the introduction of custom agricultural machines and retrofitted older units, lowering the price point of equipment. This makes advanced technology more accessible to farmers.
• The Healthcare Field: One of the most inspirational applications of this unique material takes place in the healthcare field. 3D printers may use the hybrid material to print tools, prosthetics, equipment, and more. This has the ability to cut healthcare costs, remove barriers to healthcare, and improve patient outcomes.
These are just a few of the applications of this unique 3D printing technique.
Finding the right printing solution for composite parts
Clearly, the development of new materials and techniques has led to a paradigm shift in 3D printing. How can companies and organizations use these materials appropriately to print large composite parts? There are a few factors for everyone to consider.
• The right printer: First, take a look at the options for printers. Two of the most popular include fused deposition modeling printers, which lay down layer after layer of material, and dual extruding nozzles, which lay down continuous material.
• The thickness of the layers: Different printers are going to print materials with different layer thicknesses. Depending on the level of detail of the final composite part, it might be necessary to choose a 3D printer that can lay down thinner layers.
• The temperature of the material: Thermal stress can impact the bonding of the composite. Printed parts need to be designed and manufactured at the right temperature. Take a look at the temperature range of the materials and find a printer that can match this need.
• The role of retraction: This is an important component of 3D printers. Material retraction is important when the extruder has to travel across the part without actual extrusion. Find a printer that can handle this need capably.
These are a few of the key points to consider when trying to build large composite parts. The ability to construct larger parts from smaller ones is paramount. The printer and material have to work in perfect harmony to make this happen.
The future of 3D printing in a changing landscape
This is just one example of how 3D printing is pushing the frontier of manufacturing. In the past, producing small, durable parts that possessed the strength of metal in such a lightweight package was impossible. Now, advances made in additive and composite manufacturing, the definition of what is possible is changing.