3d printing and composite manufacture go hand in hand. Often the materials we use in our 3d printing process are composites, utilising fibres such as glass- or carbon-fibre in a polymer matrix. These materials can then be used to create functional components to be used alongside, within, or to create more traditional composite parts. Read on to find out how:
Traditional composite tooling can be expensive and time consuming to create, whether you are forming fibreglass, or carbon pre-preg tools. For low volumes and prototypes, model board, wood etc may be a viable option, but for higher throughput applications you usually need to opt for costly steel tools. A 3D printed tool can be a cost effective replacement for these more expensive tools, while adding massive value in extended capabilities.
One of the major benefits of 3d printing in general, is the ability to create complex geometries for little extra effort/ cost. For composite tooling, especially for carbon-fibre tooling, this is especially powerful due to the ability to create complex internal geometries. These internals allow for the reduction of the weight of tools, which makes for easier handling. Another major benefit is the ability to integrate thermal management processes directly into the tool. Complex cooling channels can be designed in, allowing you to massively increase the output of a single tool. Scaled are currently working closely with a company on this exact process, with the aim of increasing the pull-rate from 1 component per hour, to 1 every 5 minutes.
Whilst extreme light weighting is often a goal of using composite materials, even marginal improvements can be significantly valuable. If you have low-volumes of parts, that don’t justify the investment into tooling, you can skip that step entirely with the utilisation of a core, wrapped and bonded with your preferred material. This is also a cost-effective method of component creation where the size of parts would require massive investment in tooling. Scaled can print up to 3m and are working with a client to investigate the use of large-scale 3d printed wrapped cores for structures.
The environmental impact of utilising 3d printed cores is also significant. Printing lightweight cores using recycled plastics, wrapped in environmentally friendly materials such as Flax fibre composites, provides incredibly green, lightweight, strong components.
Imagine for example the impact of replacing precast concrete structures such as bridge support with wrapped composites which are stronger, lighter and more sustainably produced.
Massive cost savings can be achieved with the use of the two processes in tandem. So whereas with wrapped cores, you are utilising both materials at once in the same component, with hybrid structures you are using each process individually to their own individual strengths. Scaled have worked on Project Chameleon, for example, where certain chassis components were entirely 3d printed, but where extra strength was required, or where other processes would have added too much weight, carbon fibre has been used instead. Making use of advanced joining strategies, such as encapsulated fixings, the two processes have been combined to result in a lightweight electric vehicle.
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