Carbon Fiber Becomes The Next Medium For 3D Printing
January 29, 2014

Carbon Fiber Becomes The Next Medium For 3D Printing

[ Watch the Video: Carbon Fiber The Next Level Of 3D Printing ]

Enid Burns for - Your Universe Online

3D printing offers endless possibilities of replicating items, including food and edible materials that print into forms to be served at restaurants. A startup called MarkForged has taken such processes a step farther by dabbling with a new 3D printing medium: carbon fiber.

The company has created a printer that specifically uses strands of carbon fiber to print three-dimensional objects.

Why carbon fiber? Because it adds strength to 3D printed items, according to MarkForged.

The company decided to work with the material to overcome strength limitations of other 3D printed materials. While the concept is similar, carbon fiber lends strength when fused together as the strands are applied together.

The use of carbon fiber and other materials by different 3D printer manufacturers has been made possible by the expiration of a key patent on selective laser sintering, which expired on January 28, CNET Australia reports, adding that more developments are expected.

Now that the patent is clear, new printers using new materials for 3D printing are able to be released. MarkForged is the first to come out with the release of the Mark One, a 3D printer that is designed to print composite materials. While many of the materials used in 3D printing are composite, carbon fiber has not been looked at for use in the field to date.

"Now you can print parts, tooling, and fixtures with a higher strength-to-weight ratio than 6061-T6 Aluminum," the MarkForged website said.

MarkForged is owned by Gregory Mark, who co-owned a company called Aeromotions, CNET Australia reports. Aeromotions builds computer-controllable aerodynamic carbon fiber wings for race cars. Mark's experience with carbon fiber materials puts him, and MarkForged, in a good position to make 3D printers that print objects using carbon fiber strands.

"Mark decided to get into 3D printing when he was looking for a better manufacturing technique than CNC machining, which is costly and time consuming," wrote Michelle Starr from CNET Australia. "The answer was 3D printing; and, since there were no 3D printers that could print in carbon fiber, Mark decided to assemble a team to invent his own."

The question is whether carbon fiber retains its strength when printed rather than formed in a vacuum process that is typically used to shape carbon fiber. Mark believes the fiber will retain its strength.

"The incredible strength of carbon fiber comes from the long, continuous strands that carry load down the entire part. This is why space shuttles, rockets and Formula 1 cars are constructed from continuous strand carbon," the Mark One website says. "And it's how we print. Don't settle for plastic with a dash of chopped carbon fill. Longer is stronger."

The Mark One 3D printer is due out in March, Engadget reports. Preorders are currently being taken on the website, and the printer will cost about $5,000, plus the carbon fiber strands for printing.

While carbon fiber offers the promise of strength for 3D printed objects, those objects might as well be etched in stone. Carbon fiber is not easily recycled, therefore objects printed in carbon fiber will not easily be able to be broken down and reused in new goods.