One of the most relevant new products seen at JEC World 2023 (it was originally presented at Formnext 2022 last November), is the new 3D printer from German company Krauss Maffei, the first German to aggressively and directly target the composites LFAM segment via an internally developed machine (Weber Additive also introduced a series of LFAM systems in collaboration with Ai Build). The Krauss Maffei powerPrint and precisionPrint systems target industrial applications and series production of final parts.
Massivit – which showed off a massive new logo for its corporate rebranding – does something similar with the 10000-G system, which 3D prints a mold in which to deposit epoxy thermoset resin to create complex, large format composite molds that can withstand very high temperatures in an autoclave. This solution can now also be used to create molds to produce foam parts, such as the saddle in the motorcycle prototype shown below.
A composite material revolution
Caracol AM is one of the companies that is contributing the most in terms of new ideas to the composite LFAM market. Driven by a young and capable team, CARACOL introduced the HERON AM complete robotic extrusion solution and continues to develop new applications, especially in terms of addressing more sustainable practices and exploring new markets. As we saw during the recent Milan Design Week, Caracol works with several furniture designers. Among the industrial applications, a partnership with Italian energy giant Enel Green Power is leading to the development of (2-meter tall) microturbine blades as well as new horizontal turbines for wind energy generation, using recycled polypropylene with 30% glass fiber reinforcement. The glass fiber comes from used wind turbines while the PP comes from post-consumer and industrial uses). This project showed a lead time reduction from 12 to 5/6 weeks and a cost reduction of up to 60%
The big guys in composites AM
With the Masterprint 3X, Ingersoll has built the largest gantry-based composite 3D printer in the world. the company leverages its advanced expertise with large CNC for metals to produce some of the most advanced composite tools around. At this year’s booth Ingersoll was showing a 4.5-meter-long pattern for a composite tool but Daniele Martani, who is in charge of Camozzi’s (Ingersoll mother company) AM activities, told VoxelMatters that the company is currently working on a 10-meter long tool. Among other things, Ingersoll also showed an integrated system for additive, measurement (3D inspection) and subtractive manufacturing of tools and final parts.
Of all the companies that are now starting to reap benefits from the composites AM market, no one has done more to build it than Airtech. Giants such as SABIC and Mitsubishi made early investments and progressively divested from a composites AM market that could not represent even a tiny fraction of the size of their more established traditional businesses (in terms of revenues AM represents less than 0.5% of these companies’ polymer businesses and in terms of volumes this percentage is even smaller). Through the Airtech Advanced Materials Group, the California company (with a large European HQ in Luxemburg) has established a strong leadership offering the Dahltram series of pelletized materials, that are specifically developed for high-end large-format composites additive manufacturing applications. As the number of companies offering LFAM composite tooling systems and services increased exponentially over the past five years, the demand for Dahltram materials has also grown significantly. Today just about every company involved in LFAM (see below) uses them and Airtech is also a major adopter through internal Thermwood LSAM systems and the Airtech 3D division specialized in 3D printing of composite tooling. There could not be a better time to celebrate the company’s 50th anniversary with a huge celebration at JEC World, along with the opening of a new division in India. Airtech’s President and CEO, Jeff Dahlgren, who has spent 42 of those 50 years at the company, confirmed to VoxelMatters that additive manufacturing is without a doubt a highly strategic segment for the company’s future and that Airtech intends to continue to invest to build this market.
Finally, new companies are emerging with very unique products that target very specific areas of additive manufacturing. For example, Utah-based startup Vartega fine-tuned a process to recycle used carbon fiber and uses it to produce composite PP-CF filament, in collaboration with polypropylene market leader Braskem. Catack-H, a South Korean, also developed a technology to recycle carbon fiber and using it to make composite filaments (currently ABS and nylon). The company’s chemical decomposition method produces high-quality recycled carbon fibers with a recovery rate of more than 90%. This is possible (and also more cost-effective) because there is no high temperature treatment so there is no surface damage on the carbon fibers and the material remains intact (and contains less than 2% decomposed epoxy residue).
Among these, CMS has been able to build up a significant installed base of industrial systems for its Kreator platform by exclusively targeting direct applications (large tools, jigs and fixtures). Not satisfied, the company presented the new and significantly larger platform, with several sizes all the way up to the largest Poseidon system, capable of depositing as much as 100 Kg/h of material via a simplified 45° extruder that can also print horizontally (at 90°). The company also developed a system to address issues in CTE (coefficient of thermal expansion): as shown in the central image of the photo gallery below, a moving part on the tool printed using Airtech’s Dahltram materials can accommodate the different expansion rates of the tool and composite part.
Large chemical companies such as Arkema, Evonik, Solvay and LEHVOSS mostly offer resin (matrix) materials for composites. In most cases these are not directly related to these companies’ 3D printing materials business however the resins can be based on the same materials. For example Arkema’s Kepstan PEKK is used as a thermoplastic matrix but also as neat polymer for both SLS powders (EOS) and FDM filaments (Stratasys). Solvay (Ketaspire, Novaspire), LEHVOSS (LUVOCOM) and Evonik (Infinam) – as well as Ensinger – also continue offer filaments, pellets and powders ranges for composite additive manufacturing. All these companies have consolidated brands of neat advanced polymer as well as composite materials.