“We’re combining Additive manufacturing and compression molding technology for next-generation composites” -Tanja
9T Labs’ deposition process places continuous carbon fiber only where necessary to save material, reduce waste, and more precisely control the structure of preform composites.
Composite parts built from layers of thermoplastics and reinforcing fibers offer a strong, lightweight solution for aerospace parts, surgical guides, consumer products and more. But when composite material are manufactured conventionally, high cost hinder their widespread use.
The company has created a new way of building composite parts, one that combines 3D printing technique with continuous carbon fiber reinforcement and compression molding to create strong, light components. The multi-step method delivers parts that can be both cheaper and less wasteful than either conventional composite or metal machined parts, with less porosity and more repeatability than other continuous carbon fiber 3D printing solutions can provide.
9T Labs’ Red Series system consists of its Fibrify software and two different machines, the Build module and the Fusion module. The Build module is an industrial 3D printer with a deposition nozzle to place thermoplastic filament (to date, mostly PA12 and PEKK) and a fiber guide to place the carbon fiber-reinforced filament. The platform can also be used with different materials.
“Importantly, the reinforced filament does not need to follow the same path as the neat plastic; instead, this capability can be turned on and off as needed. The Fibrify software provides user-adjustable intelligent fiber layup suggestions and integrates with commercially available FEA simulation packages such as ANSYS to verify and optimize these patterns. “
Parts are usable right out of the printer as functional prototypes, jigs and fixtures, or one-off parts, but voids and dimensional accuracy preclude them from most of the high-performance production applications 9T Labs is truly after. To achieve their final density and dimensions, these “preform” parts go through a compression molding step in the Fusion module, capable of reaching temperatures up to 400°C and pressure beyond 20 bar.
This step uses a mold tool unique to the part — typically machined aluminum for a short-run job, or stainless steel for higher volumes — to compress the printed layers and fiber together, resulting in a low-porosity, dense and strong final composite piece. Parts achieve less than 1% void content through the Fusion process. As an added benefit, bushings, bearings and other inserts can be added to parts before compression molding and secured into place during this step, reducing assembly on the other side. The process also allows multiple sub-parts to be assembled and fused into one part allowing for reak 3D fiber orientation..
9T Labs’ process reduces labor as well as waste and mass over those conventional manufacturing methods. Compared to machined aluminum, Red Series composite parts are lighter weight and can be built without creating scrap. And because the reinforcing fibers are placed only where needed, the parts are generally even lighter than conventional composites while still being strong enough to perform in use. Plus, they are far more cost-effective to make at small scale and quantity (generally between 100 and 10’000 parts per annum).
Product Marketing Manager @ 9T Labs,
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