Composites Manufacturing Managing Editor Susan Keen Flynn sat down with Bob Yancey at Altair’s booth on the CAMX exhibit hall floor on Wednesday. Yancey’s role at the simulation technology provider is to define Altair’s strategic direction to meet the growing and changing needs of the additive manufacturing market, including laminated composites. He also teaches a course on additive manufacturing in the aerospace market at the University of Washington.

Q: There’s so much excitement around 3-D printing as you can see on the show floor. What do you think about the growing interest in this niche?

A: “I’ve been in 3-D printing for 20 years. It’s amazing all the hype around it over the last couple of years. It’s very exciting to me. There’s tremendous potential, but it’s still a really small market. Compare that to the composites market and it dwarfs in comparison in total volume.”

Q: Why do you think composite materials and additive manufacturing are a good fit?

A: “Where I see the best applications for 3-D printing and composites is in making tools. There’s a clear advantage there. Tooling is expensive and has a long lead time. If you can print it and get a prototype tool put together in a week, there’s a huge advantage to that. I see a real inflection point going on currently where [additive manufacturing] is moving from prototyping to manufacturing. That’s happening more with metals and plastics, but I always tell people that composites were actually the original additive process. Whenever I talk additive manufacturing, I include the automated fiber placement (AFP) and automated tape laying (ATL) processes because there’s a lot that the additive community can learn from them. They’ve had to deal with the issues of certification of those parts, controlling the manufacturing process, gathering data about the manufacturing process through sensors. Metal and plastic printing are just starting to figure that out.”

A: You mentioned tooling as a prime application for 3-D printing, but people want to know about other applications. What are some of the more innovative applications that you’ve seen?

Q: “It’s still a little premature. The challenge that I see in trying to have composites in additive manufacturing – set aside the AFP/ATL stuff – is that normally it’s dealing with chopped fiber, so there’s a knock down in material properties. And the fibers are going to align the way you lay it down, so there’s a z-axis weakness. That also happens in traditional laminated composites, but when you look at aerospace applications – a primary market – they don’t have a whole lot of out-of-plane loading, so it’s not as much of a problem.”