During RAPID + TCT 2017, one of the world’s premier conference dedicated to advances in additive manufacturing, Impossible Objects unveiled its Model One printer, which the company believes has the potential to revolutionize how industries approaches 3-D printing.
The Model One is based on the company’s composite-based additive manufacturing method (CBAM), which enables companies to use composite materials, including carbon fiber, Kevlar and, fiberglass together with PEEK and other high-performance polymers, to build strong, lightweight parts. Impossible Objects claims the CBAM process is “the first truly new 3D printing process in more than 20 years.”
According to Impossible Objects CEO Larry Kaplan, what sets the Model One apart from every other 3-D printer on the market is its combination of speed, scalability, strength of parts and material choices. During the process, the Model One uses conventional thermal inkjet heads that are used to “print” designs on sheets of composites. Each sheet is then flooded with a polymer powder, such as nylon or PEEK, causing the powder to stick where inkjet fluid has been deposited on the sheets. Excess powder is vacuumed off and the sheets are stacked, compressed and heated. The polymer powder melts and bonds the sheets together. The uncoated fibers are then mechanically or chemically removed, and what remains is an exceptionally durable, lightweight object that was previously impossible to make so quickly and inexpensively.
Kaplan explains that because CBAM is based on standard inkjet technology, Impossible Objects is able to scale the Model One from a speed perspective. He says that Impossible Objects’ first printer is still really fast by 3-D printing standards, but that the Model One can print thousands of cubic inches per hour. He adds that the Model One can produce parts that are up to 10 times stronger than traditional 3-D printed parts.
“The development of an automated, low-cost composite additive manufacturing system could revolutionize the U.S. composite tool and composite end user parts industries,” says Lonnie Love, PhD, Group Leader of Automation, Robotics and Manufacturing at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. “Impossible Objects’ CBAM technology has the potential to revolutionize this market.”
Kaplan says he sees potential for the Model One to be used for parts for drones, automotive components, electronics, goods, tooling, and medical devices.
“We’ve seen tremendous interest from a range of companies who want the advantages of 3-D printing for their high-volume manufacturing and for materials they cannot get elsewhere,” says Robert Swartz, chairman and founder of Impossible Objects. “Until now, there was no way to print functional parts with the mechanical and material properties at the scale these companies need. The Model One is just the beginning of what CBAM can do. Our CBAM technology has the potential to transform manufacturing as we know it.”