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2020 News: Carbon Fiber 3D Printing

Carbon Fiber 3D-Printing


Heralded as a crucial catalyst for the changing face of producing and provide chains, additive manufacturing is back within the limelight. It’s with good reason. The layer-by-layer additive techniques, clubbed under the umbrella term of 3D printing, are being extensively employed to assist save lives as governments across the planet battle to flatten the COVID-19 curve.

While companies like Isnnova and Lonati SpA have 3D printed valves for ventilators, other firms like RapidMade are now producing emergency personal protective equipment (PPE) like lightweight plastic face masks with built-in removable filters also as face shields. Groups just like the COVID Maker Response (CMR) also are manufacturing, assembling, and distributing 3D-printed PPE to health care workers on the front lines. CMR was founded by members of Columbia University Libraries, Tangible Creative, and MakerBot.

Cloud-based 3D printing software has further given manufacturers the power to simply make any part on demand, boosting the explanation for additive manufacturing.

3D printing, however, isn't almost plastic, although the story of 3D printing did begin within the 1980s with plastic, which remains the foremost widely used material. this is often not surprising since plastic is quickly available, comparatively inexpensive, and well established during a sort of extrusion processes.

That said, 3D printers today also use metals, alloys, and composites. These materials are getting used not only to form PPE and other medical equipment but also jewelry and toothbrushes, football boots, racing-car parts, machine parts, custom-designed cakes, human organs, houses, and airplane parts, among countless other items.

Metals and alloys like aluminum, steel, chrome steel, gallium, titanium, and cobalt-chromium are widely utilized in the aeronautics, automotive and biomedical industries, and use processes like selective laser sintering (SLS), direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) or e-beam (EBM). 3D printers also use materials like ceramics, sand, organic materials, marble, stone, and wood, counting on the applications.

The Power of Composites

Composite and metal 3D-printed parts fulfill different roles on the factory floor and may complement one another to support production.

Using both a metal and a composite printer provides the pliability to leverage the strengths of both materials and make extremely functional tools[MG1].
Optimize Your parts for Specific Qualities
(Image Cited from MG1.)
Composites, which are now getting their due in the field of 3D printing, can be broadly defined as materials that contain a reinforcement (such as fibers or particles) supported by a binder (matrix) material. The matrix provides a medium for binding and holding reinforcements together in a solid. Most composites offer significantly high advantages in terms of their specific strength (strength-to-weight ratio) and specific stiffness (stiffness-to-weight ratio).

Composites can be broadly classified according to reinforcement forms—particulate reinforced, fiber reinforced, or laminar composites.

Fiber-reinforced composites can be further divided as those containing discontinuous or continuous fibers. Fiber-reinforced composites, which contain reinforcements having lengths much greater than their cross-sectional dimensions, are considered to be discontinuous or short fibers if their properties vary by fiber length. Otherwise, these composites are considered to be continuous fiber reinforced[MG2].

The percentage of fiber used and the base thermoplastic determine how strong the final part is. In the case of continuous fiber, long strands of fiber are mixed with a thermoplastic, like PLA, ABS, nylon, PETG, and PEEK during the printing process. Parts that are 3D printed with continuous fiber are extremely lightweight yet as strong as metal.

Why Single out Carbon Fiber?

Most 3D printers capable of processing composite materials are supported by the polymer-extrusion process, referred to as fused filament fabrication (FFF). In FFF, a nozzle moves above the build platform extrudes a melted thread of plastic called a filament, and creates an object layer-by-layer.

Carbon fiber is one of the foremost popular sorts of fibers utilized in 3D printing, followed by fiberglass and Kevlar. If you would like a robust yet light 3D-printed machinery part, you'll want to think about carbon fiber. It’s a solid material that's incredibly strong—five times stronger than steel—yet significantly lighter in weight.

Hence, carbon fibers find applications in aerospace, road, and marine transport, sports equipment, audio equipment, loudspeakers for hi-fi equipment, pickup arms, robot arms, automobile hoods, novel tooling, casings surgery and X-ray equipment, implants, valves, seals, and pump components in process plants, and radiological equipment, among others.

Composite AM Market Forecast
(The composite AM opportunity can grow to a nearly $10 billion in yearly global business. (Image cited from SmarTech Publishing.))


Carbon fibers are mostly made up of polyacrylonitrile (90 percent), with the remaining 10 percent made up of rayon or petroleum pitch—all organic polymers formed by an extended string of molecules bound together by carbon molecules.

The staple wont to make carbon fiber is named the precursor. it's drawn into long strands heated to a real heat without allowing them to return in touch with oxygen in order that the fiber cannot burn. the method called carbonization creates long, tightly woven fibers that are coated to guard them against damage during winding or weaving.

The 3D printing of filaments containing chopped fibers requires only a hardened steel nozzle to resist abrasive fiber strands. The FFF process for continuous fiber printing, however, requires a second nozzle to separately deposit one, uninterrupted strand of fiber.

Pros and Cons

Carbon fiber has many positive qualities. it's a high specific strength or strength-to-weight ratio. it's highly rigid, corrosion-resistant, and chemically stable. it's good tensile strength—the maximum stress that a cloth can withstand while being stretched or pulled before necking, or failing.
Carbon fiber is fire resistant and features a low coefficient of thermal expansion—a measure of what proportion a cloth expands and contracts when the temperature increases or decreases. Carbon fiber is additionally nonpoisonous, biologically inert, and X-ray permeable—qualities that make it beneficial in medical applications.

Chopped Carbon Fiber

In this method, the carbon fiber is already integrated into the filament and is prepared to print on an FFF 3D printer (right nozzle and heated bed). A base material (PLA, nylon, or other thermoplastics) is mixed with extremely small bits of carbon fiber. These small carbon fiber strands are abrasive, therefore the 3D printer would require a hardened steel nozzle or another tough nozzle to resist them.

Parts printed with this sort of filament are stronger than regular thermoplastic prints, but the share of fiber used and therefore the base thermoplastic (among other variables) determine the strength of the ultimate product.

Consider the case of auto-drive systems made from components that deliver power to the driving wheels, and which require complex under-the-hood assemblies that are configured employing a complex series of tools and jigs that are fully customized for builds. instead of use CNCs to machine gauges, electric vehicles solution provider Dayco 3D printed them in Onyx (from Markforged). The 3D-printed material may be a low cost, high strength thermoplastic made from nylon, and chopped carbon fiber.

3D printing helped Dayco automate the assembly of those parts, freeing up skilled CNC machining labor to specialize in manufacturing high-value production processes. Dayco, consistent with Markforged, also saved 70 percent in costs and halved its overall production time from 200 to 100 hours.

Another case in point is that of Utah Trikes—a producer of trikes, quads, and custom wheelchairs—which needed the power to form prototype pieces it could actually test, and which might be both cost- and time-efficient. A pedal-powered wheelchair in production at Utah Trikes has 450 distinct parts, 120 of which are 3D printed.

The company used the Stratasys FDM Nylon 12CF, which has given Utah Trikes the “... ability to now design and print on-site, which has cut production time from two months to 2 weeks, reducing the company’s costs 8-10 times,” consistent with the Stratasys website.

Other filament manufacturers of short fiber composites include Roboze, 3DXTech, Proto-Pasta, and colorFabb.

The future Bets on Continuous Carbon Fiber

Companies that use the continual 3D printing method include Markforged, Anisoprint, CEAD, Roboze, EnvisionTEC, and Impossible Objects. Continuous carbon fiber 3D printers typically range between $14,000 and $250,000, counting on the dimensions and applications.

The continuous fiber method was first introduced by Markforged in 2014 when the corporate launched the Mark One. While the Mark One has been replaced by a replacement generation of 3D printers, the technology hasn’t changed. Typically, the printer is provided with two nozzles—one to extrude the plastic filament and therefore the other to simultaneously lay down carbon fiber strands.

The technology goes by different names with a couple of variations. While Markforged calls it Continuous Filament Fabrication (CFF), start-up Anisoprint has christened its Composite Fiber Co-extrusion (CFC).

As an example of the sensible applications of this technology[MG3], para-athlete diver Dmitry Pavlenko needed a lever to regulate air inflation and release for maintaining buoyancy and maneuverability. He began by employing a steel spoon as a lever, but it broke after the 10th dive. Another lever was printed on an Anisoprint Composer 3D printer from PETG (a glycol-modified version of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is usually wont to manufacture water bottles) and reinforced with composite carbon fiber during a bid to extend the lifetime of the part. Pavlenko believes the Anisoprint-printed part will survive 100 dives.

Silicon Valley-based AREVO’s proprietary process is predicated on Directed Energy Deposition (DED) technology, where a laser is employed to heat the filament and carbon fiber at an equivalent time as a roller compresses the 2 materials together. Its additive manufacturing process features patented software algorithms enabling generative design techniques, free-motion robotics for “true 3D” construction, and DED “for virtually void-free construction all optimized for anisotropic composite materials,” consistent with the corporate.

As an example of its technology at work, AREVO produces 3D-printed carbon fiber unibody frames for a replacement line of e-bikes called EVE9 from the Pilot Distribution Group BV—a leader in bike design and production. “AREVO’s continuous carbon fiber technology is extremely impressive because it affords numerous design possibilities and provides excellent strength and sturdiness,” said Arno Pieterse from Pilot.

According to a September 2019 press statement, Hemant Bheda, Cofounder and Chairman of AREVO, see “near-term applicability (of this technology) in other areas of green urban mobility, from electric scooters to e-VTOLs, or flying cars.”

Impossible Objects and EnvisionTEC have added systems for continuous fiber 3D printing to their range of machines. There’s a technology twist, though, since they weave in sheets of carbon fiber into a print by employing a lamination process. On its part, Continuous Composites[MG4] uses a hybrid technology where the strand of fiber is soaked with resin then hardened using UV light, a process almost like SLA 3D printing.

Switzerland-based 9T Labs uses a 3D printing it calls Additive Fusion Technology (AFT)—the reinforcement is formed from a carbon-filled material rather than pure carbon fibers.

The method that U.S.-based Continuous Composites employ is named Continuous Fiber 3D Printing (CF3D). It feeds a roll of dry carbon fiber into a print head mounted on a seven-axis industrial robot. inside the print head, the fiber is impregnated with a rapid curing photopolymer resin and is then extracted through the top effector and instantly cured with a strong energy source.

Market Opportunity

The global 3D printing market size was valued at $12 billion in 2019 and is predicted to expand at a CAGR exceeding 14 percent from 2020 to 2027, consistent with a February 2020 note by marketing research firm Grand View Research Inc. The polymer (or loosely, plastics) segment accounted for the most important market share in 2019 as compared to the metal and ceramic segments. However, the metal segment is anticipated to carry the most important market share and continue leading 3D printing market share over the forecast period.

According to Stratview Research, additive manufacturing remains at a nascent stage within the composites industry. Still, technology does possess huge opportunities in most of the industry verticals, including aerospace, defense, and automotive. the worldwide 3D printed composites market is pegged to succeed in $190 million in 2024, consistent with Stratview Research. Carbon fiber, the research firm adds, is projected to stay the most important reinforcement type within the market during the forecast period.

Market research firm IDTechEx is far more bullish. It forecasts the worldwide marketplace for composite 3D printing will touch $1.7 billion in value by 2030.

The high demand for lightweight components within the structural applications for improving fuel efficiency or reducing carbon emissions is predicted to be the leading growth driver of the increased demand for carbon fibers in major industries like aerospace, defense, and automotive.

As is clear from the examples above, continuous carbon fiber 3D printing can produce parts that boast high strength, stiffness, and dimensional stability. These parts are light, have an excellent surface finish, and maybe mixed with many various sorts of thermoplastic materials.

However, 3D printing parts with carbon fiber remains expensive. Costs, though, are expected to fall as companies increasingly see their utility. With rising volumes, carbon fiber 3D printing may live up to the promising forecasts.