From automotive and aerospace to biomedical and building, more industries are discovering the versatility of additive manufacturing.

The 3-D composites additive manufacturing industry is experiencing steady growth, spurred by the flexibility, speed and lower cost that the technology can offer. SmarTech Publishing, which specializes in 3-D printing industry research and data, is bullish on the market, forecasting total revenues for composites additive manufacturing reaching $580 million by 2026.

As the use of 3-D printing technology becomes more widespread, manufacturers are finding innovative ways to use it. Here’s a look at what four companies are doing.

Driving Innovation

Penske Racing has understood the benefits of additive technology for over a decade. It began with stereolithography (SLA) 3-D printers to scale model parts for wind tunnel testing for NASCAR and IndyCar vehicles. Over the years, Penske has expanded its 3-D printing capabilities, enabling the company to better tailor the properties of the printed products to specific applications.

Penske uses specific resin systems with SLA that produce the desired stiffness for wind tunnel models, but result in parts that are often brittle. Printed components such as mockups, jigs and fixtures can’t suffer from this brittle characteristic. Partnering with Stratasys, Penske brought in a fused deposition modeling (FDM) printer, which extrudes polymers layer by layer.

“The FDM materials are more durable compared to our SLA resins. Prototype, jig and fixture parts can be mocked up, bolted and dropped without breaking,” says Andrew Miller, composite engineer at Penske Racing. The FDM technology filled a void in Penske’s additive manufacturing program, enabling the company to produce jigs and tooling faster for improved on-track performance.

Penske uses many FDM materials for its applications, including durable and chemical-resistant Nylon 12 for jigs and fixtures and temperature-resistant ULTEM 1010 for composite tooling. “With our composite tooling, in some cases we are curing components under high temperature and pressure – 90 psi, 250 degrees F – so we use ULTEM 1010, which has really high strength and temperature capability,” says Miller.

Furthermore, the FDM printer has freed up machine shop resources. “We are able to print our tools and patterns much quicker than we could traditionally machine them, especially parts that would involve five-axis machining, which gets to be expensive and time consuming,” say Miller.

Using the FDM printer, Penske recently produced a fuel probe handle and housing for IndyCar teams. A mechanic who fuels up a car at a pit stop uses a large probe with a handle assembly that alerts him with sensors and lights when the tank is full. Previously made from fabricated aluminum, the handle was heavy and not well integrated into the probe. Penske engineers designed a lighter and better integrated composite handle for the Indy 500, but the turnaround time was tight and there were challenges in making the part.