Advances in machine technology and improvements in materials are progressing the use of additive manufacturing in the composites market – from prototypes to customized products. Reinforced Plastics reviews some recent developments.

The evolution of additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, continues to influence the composites market by enabling mass customization in various markets. There are a number of areas that additive manufacturing is making inroads into the composites market. These include defense and aerospace, where additive manufacturing is finding applications in, for example, fan blades, propellers and mold tooling. In the automotive sector, additive manufacturing is being used for car body and roof parts, while in the healthcare market applications such as orthopedic implants and prosthetics are benefitting from advances in 3D printing. Additive manufacturing is now a viable process for prototypes and tooling jigs, as well as small volume and custom part production. Benefits include improved customization, no tooling costs or storage, parts available on demand and requiring no stock, little scrap, and short lead times. There are many developments in both machine technology and 3D printing materials currently coming to the market.

For example, 3D printer manufacturer Ultimaker has formed an alliance with DSM and Owens Corning to optimize materials for the Ultimaker S5 (Figure 1) and provide a wider variety of FFF (Fused Filament Fabrication) 3D printing materials. DSM Novamid ID1030 CF10 is a new carbon fiber filled grade PA6/66 filament that brings the properties of 3D printed parts close to what is usually achievable only by injection molding. With 10% carbon fiber reinforcement, it produces stronger, tougher, and stiffer 3D printed parts for functional prototyping and end-use applications, at the same speeds as unreinforced plastics. In addition, Owens Corning has developed a high-end 3D printing material Xstrand. This material is designed for functional prototyping and industrial applications, and has strong mechanical and thermal properties enabled by glass fiber reinforcement. The material is claimed to be durable, with stiff mechanical properties, a low thermal expansion coefficient, and a high working temperature.

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