The concept of using 3-D printing to produce composite parts for cars has gained momentum over the past few years. However, one OEM has separated itself from others by experimenting with an unlikely application: carbon fiber reinforced polymer (CFRP) parts with paper-based 3-D printing.

Over the past year, Ireland-based Mcor Technologies has been collaborating with Honda on CFRP molds that Honda will be using for high-performance vehicle testing. Usually, short-run manufacturing of CFRP parts involves using a CNC machine to cut a mold out of metal, which is time and labor-intensive.

“Using paper-based 3D printed models as the molds for this process reduces the cost of producing CFRPs considerably – our 3D printed molds can be 10 times less to make than CNC molds, the method currently used,” Mcor CEO and co-founder Dr. Conor MacCormack explained to 3dprint.com. “And this could lead to their use in mass-produced cars not just in low volume manufacturing of high-performance vehicles in the automotive industry.”

As Engineering.com explains, Mcor’s technology is known as selective deposition lamination (SDL) and contains five steps:

  1. A digital 3-D model is broken down into individual slices that will make up the layers of the final printed object.
  2. Paper is fed into the print chamber before an adhesive is selectively deposited into the shape of those slices.
  3. Another layer of paper is loaded, and a heated plate applies pressure, causing the adhesive to bind the two layers together.
  4. A tungsten carbide blade slices around the printed layers.
  5. This process is repeated until the object is complete.

When Honda discovered SDL 3-D printing, the automaker began experimenting with laying traditional CFRP over 3D-printed paper molds, which are then placed together in an autoclave for final curing. Ultimately, according to McCormack, the parts are just as good as ones made traditionally.

“Honda also informed us that there was no difference in using our 3D printed parts directly when compared to plastic 3-D printed material in their wind tunnel testing,” McCormack told 3dprint.com. “They also found that toughness is higher in our parts.”