Realising the competitive potential of composites additive manufacturing
( May 2016)
Additive Manufacturing (AM) or 3D printing is now the fastest growing sector of manufacturing globally. Companies such as Airbus, Audi, BMW, Boeing, Ford, General Electric, Hewlett-Packard and Nike, as well as many small and medium-sized enterprises globally, are using and exploring the technology for component and part production. Popular press, trade and technical journals are almost daily reporting on new and innovative printers and parts additively manufactured in both metal alloys and polymers; and component designs for AM that challenge the imagination.
In this article prepared for Composites Australia, Professor Milan Brandt, Technical Director of Advanced Manufacturing Precinct and Director of Centre for Additive Manufacturing at RMIT University, and Professor Murray L Scott, Managing Director of Advanced Composite Structures Australia Pty Ltd and an Adjunct Professor at RMIT University, assess the potential of additive manufacturing in the design and production of composite parts directly from CAD.
Additive Manufacturing (AM) or 3D printing is now the fastest growing sector of manufacturing globally.
The main driver has been globalisation which is changing the nature and economics of manufacturing in “high-wage” countries such as Australia. On one hand, globalisation has led to new markets, but on the other, to new competitors, in particular from “low-wage” countries. Handling the challenge of product cost pressures, diversity and dynamics becomes the central focus for manufacturing companies in “high-wage” countries.
Advanced technology and research are seen as critical elements in addressing some of these challenges to deliver cost competitive approaches to manufacturing for the companies in “high-wage” countries to remain profitable and in business. AM is seen as a solution to boost local manufacturing because of the many benefits it offers compared to traditional manufacturing. With additive technologies parts can be built directly from computer models or from measurements of existing components to be re-engineered, and therefore bypass traditional manufacturing processes such as cutting, milling, casting and grinding. Benefits include:
1) new designs not possible using conventional subtractive technology
2) dramatic savings in time, materials, wastage, energy and other costs in producing new components
3) significant reductions in environmental impact; and
4) faster time to market for products.
Ever since composite materials were first introduced, they have been pushing the boundaries of high performance and light-weight designs in all branches of engineering. Composite manufacturing processes are in essence additive processes. In order to reduce the labour-intensive manual operations, and the need for a flexible automated composite process, organisations are investigating the feasibility of implementing AM techniques to aid the fabrication of composite parts.
There are several options for which AM can be implemented in the composite production process involving direct and indirect manufacture of composite parts. This article highlights the potential of AM in the design and manufacturing of composite parts directly from CAD in particular with fibre reinforced thermoplastics.
Composites in AM is definitely growing, as evidenced by the number of companies looking to take advantage of the material properties due to continuous filaments and the size of parts possible. The latter was demonstrated at the 2014 IMTS show in Chicago, USA, with the printing of the Strati carbon fibre reinforced plastic car using BAAM – Big Area Additive Manufacturing, by American collaborators Local Motors (Chandler, Arizona), Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Cincinnati Incorporated.
MarkForged has developed a process for fusing carbon fibre to other thermosetting materials and is offering a small desktop printer for this.
The Mark One MarkForged printer allows users to embed electronics, sensors, ball bearings, hard mounting points and more into 3D printed parts made with carbon, glass and/or aramid fibres. Shown at right is a part manufactured on a MarkForged printer.
Below is a table listing some of the current companies and composite AM technologies, including fused filament fabrication (FFF), composite filament fabrication (CFF), fused deposition modelling (FDM) and selective laser sintering (SLS).