Q: How do you tackle the z-axis weakness?
A: “I ask all the vendors, ‘What are you doing about that?’ And they say they are working on it, but they won’t reveal any details yet. … On the metal side, one thing you’re starting to see is companies coming out with hybrid manufacturing techniques – a combination of additive and subtractive. With that, rather than putting the material down layer by layer they can actually follow a contour. If you can do that with composites, you’re still going to have that z-axis weakness somewhere. I just don’t know what the solution is, and I think until somebody figures that out there will be limited applications for 3-D printed composites.”
Q: What other challenges prevent widespread implementation of 3-D printing in the composites industry?
“Even with all the hype about 3-D printing there’s still not a whole lot of people that really understand it. I think it’s going to take a lot of education and reprogramming of how we design products to take full advantage of 3-D printing because our whole educational system and our experience is geared toward [designing] a machined part, a cast part, a forged part, an extruded part. We know how to design those products, but 3-D printing is none of those things. … There are a lot of preconceived notions about design that engineers bring to the table that we need to remove from their brains.”
Q: Are there certain markets, on the tooling side, that seem to be leading in additive manufacturing?
A: “Aerospace is clearly interested in taking a look at [3-D printed tooling]. You look at the lead times to get aerospace tooling. It’s a year or so. The ability to do prototype tooling fairly quickly is a huge advantage.”
A: What advances are on the horizon in additive manufacturing?
Q: “There is some really interesting new equipment coming out, and I think that will continue to advance. The larger machine vendors are putting the entire process in a single box – including the post-processing, support and all those kinds of things. We’ll continue to gain knowledge from a design standpoint and [better understand] how to certify and qualify these materials.”
Q: Any final thoughts?
A: “I want to stress that people should consider composites as an additive process. The way we make them today is an additive process. I fight to make sure composites are included in the discussion because you go to the main additive manufacturing shows and a few people are laying tape with fused deposition modeling, but it’s not part of the discussion. And it should be.”