Although Orbital Composites can print high-tech products like satellite parts or antennas, one of its first customers is Lore, which offers custom-printed carbon shoes for bicyclists. Lore asserts that its shoes, which cost $1,900 a pair, will optimize a rider’s watt output and pedaling efficiency.
Using an iPhone app, customers scan their feet and send the measurements to the company, which uses Orbital Composites’ technology to print the shoes. Lore emphasizes the sustainability of its product. Their shoes are made from recyclable thermoplastics, and the printing process virtually eliminates waste.
“The shoes have demonstrated that Orbital Composites can cost-effectively manufacture a product using 12-axis, advanced thermoplastic, continuous fiber printing,” Nielsen says. Taking advantage of this technology, the company plans to manufacture and sell its own line of drones soon.
In addition, Orbital Composites is currently working on a project with the Department of Energy, ORNL and the University of Maine to 3D-print a wind turbine blade with continuous fiber. The goal is to demonstrate the feasibility of printing wind blades on site.
Another project with ORNL involves the development of additive manufacturing compression molding (AMCM).
“This particular machine is designed to produce thermoplastic continuous fiber and components with aerospace quality at the automotive price and production rate, with automotive production reliability and a Class A surface finish directly out of the machine,” says Amolak Badesha, Orbital Composites’ CEO. “There’s no material waste because the AMCM system prints the net weight and net shape of the part.” Badesha says that injection molding results in 10% waste, compression molding in 20% waste and sheet metal stamping in 55% waste.
“It’s really applicable to both car and airplane parts, and makes continuous fiber parts cheaper than sheet metal,” he adds. “That’s a first.”
Advances in Thermoset AM
From its founding in 2013, Massivit 3D has been focused on faster and more cost-effective manufacturing with large-scale 3D printing. Its printing system is unique; it uses a printing gel based on thermoset photopolymer resins.
“Most AM tooling systems for composite materials rely on a layering mechanism that utilizes thermoplastic materials,” says Ido Eylon, vice president of global sales and marketing. “This layering process causes uneven molecular bonds to form during the build process.”
The Massivit 10000, which will be commercially available in May, introduces the first isotropic 3D-printed mold to the composite manufacturing arena, according to the company. Leveraging a proprietary thermoset casting material, the technology allows for consistent and low thermal expansion at elevated temperatures, as well as high thermal stability up to 155 C.
The Massivit 10000, which won an Award for Composite Excellence at CAMX 2021, features a cast-in-motion technology. The printing head uses a rapid, UV-curing polymer to form two outer sacrificial walls, each about 3.6 millimeters thick. The casting head follows depositing an epoxy-based resin composite between those two walls, forming an isotropic core.
The printer builds up the mold layer-by-layer until the desired size and shape are achieved. (The maximum size is 56 inches wide, 59 inches high and 44 inches deep.) The hardened printed part, with the sacrificial walls still attached, can be post cured for a few hours to improve the mechanical properties at elevated temperatures, then immersed in water, where the outer walls flake off. (The flakes can be removed from the water, and the water reused.) The mold that comes out of the water is near net shape. The mold surface may require post finishing.
The process reduces the 19 steps typically required for mold production to just four, so companies using Massivit’s 3D printers will have their molds in less than a week rather than several weeks.
Some projects have been printed on the Massivit 10000, including a complex mold for a racing car seat. But there are many other potential applications. “All manner of tools and mandrels can be digitally produced for the transportation, home refurbishment, sports and aerospace industries,” says Eylon.
As additive manufacturing technology matures, companies will continue to find new and better ways to employ 3D printing on its own or in conjunction with other composite manufacturing techniques. The result should be faster, better and more cost-effective production methods that will provide the composites industry a competitive advantage in many markets.
Mary Lou Jay is a freelance writer based in Timonium, Md. Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
An Additive Manufacturing Variation
Arris Composites’ Additive Molding™ technology isn’t 3D printing in the classic sense. “But the process is additive, because we are bringing subcomponents of different materials together to create a product,” says Riley Reese, the company’s CTO and cofounder.
Additive Molding is an automated process that begins with a continuous dry fiber impregnated with thermoplastic resin to create a filamentous material. This material is then shaped, using Arris’ proprietary process, into a 3D form that will be a component of the final part. The continuous fibers, which can be carbon, glass or aramid, are aligned along principal stress vectors.
The system then assembles the preformed shapes into a near net form that goes into the mold. Under the heat and pressure of the mold, the near net shape re-forms to the final part design. “We get a part that consistently meets expectations, and we also remove voids and porosity that would have existed without that molding step,” says Reese. “You also get incredible cosmetic surface finishes.”
Additive Molding also enables parts consolidation, resulting in single, multi-functional structures. For the Skydio X2 drone airframe, for example, Arris combined what had been 17 parts into one lighter-weight component with improved performance.
Skydio’s drone bracket made by Arris includes high-strength, stiff carbon fiber for the arms that hold and protect the optical equipment. The reinforcing carbon fibers at the ends of those arms are aligned to provide impact resistance. Glass fibers in the area around the drones’ GPS electronics create RF-transparent windows for unobstructed communication. The molding process enables Arris to provide both matte and glossy Class A surface finishes without the need for post-processing, Reese says.
Skydio had originally used 3D-printed titanium for its airframe. Replacing it with a consolidated composite frame provided the same stiffness and strength with an 80% reduction in weight.
With Additive Molding, Arris can reduce wall thicknesses in a composite part down to .25 millimeters, which opens up market opportunities in consumer electronics and consumer goods.
“Anything you want to carry around – your phone, a watch, sunglasses – all of these products can benefit from thinner and thinner walls that are structural,” Reese says. The process also enables the embedding of other functional components, such as a wireless charging coil, into structures like a cell phone case without added thickness.
The process of Additive Molding enables a production scale that 3D printing can’t match. “With a mold and a tool, we can get incredibly high volumes as well as a high level of repeatability and consistency,” says Reese. “Both of those things are challenges in the 3D printing world.”