This post was written by VP of Applications and Co-Founder Karlo Delos Reyes.
It’s time for a step-change in 3D printing. Over the past few decades, many additive manufacturing companies have focused on making the technology faster, more affordable, with incremental improvements in performance. We have yet to hit, however, a boost in functionality and performance that will propel photopolymer-based 3D printing, otherwise known as vat polymerization, to the next level of performance needed to go beyond prototyping.
Fortify, through the development of the Digital Composite Manufacturing (DCM) platform, enables the incorporation of functional additives into engineering photopolymers. The result is a new material palette with increased functionality and performance. The DCM platform leverages Digital Light Processing (DLP), allowing users to harness the scalability and surface quality of traditional photopolymers systems with next generation performance that functional additives provide.
With this in mind, new material classes are being developed with different formulations of functional additives and photopolymers to tackle different properties for an array of applications. Fortify’s material palette targets mechanical and electrical performance listed below:
The key enabling processes around this thesis are Continuous Kinetic Mixing (CKM)™ and Fluxprint™. The CKM technology allows for the facile integration of various functional additives of many different morphologies into an engineering photopolymer, on the fly. By dispensing the correct dose of functional additive and resin into the on-board mixer, the system disperses, homogenizes, and dispenses the proper formulation into your build chamber. Most importantly, CKM suspends heavy fibers and particles in the matrix, and maintains homogeneity throughout the entirety of the print, ensuring an even distribution of functional additive throughout your part. Fluxprint, on the other hand, involves the ability to magnetically manipulate anisotropic particles in the build zone. This allows the system to wirelessly control the microarchitecture of the reinforcing fibers in the part, voxel by voxel, augmenting and increasing properties such as wear, strength, and thermal conductivity.
A very brief history
The history of 3D printing traces back to the mid-1980s when Chuck Hull filed the first 3D printing patent for his invention of stereolithography (SLA). His original patent, which involved using a UV light to harden resin layer by layer, required a specific backbone chemistry, now known as acrylic and methacrylic chemistry, which has been the cornerstone of all photopolymer development for the last 4 decades. Though this chemistry has many advantages such as speed and resolution, the parts tend to be weak and brittle.
In order to address these issues, we can look to the thermoplastics world for inspiration. In the injection molding and machined thermoplastics world, in order to increase performance or otherwise modulate the functionality (thermal, electrical, etc.), functional additives are introduced into the polymer and compounded into the feedstock. For example, for increased mechanical performance, chemical companies would compound the plastic feedstock with carbon fiber to increase the strength, stiffness, and overall rigidity of the end-use part.
Which brings us back to our thesis, enhancing photopolymers with functional additives – except this time in additive manufacturing.
With the introduction of Digital Composite Manufacturing, we strive to transform how the world makes and manufactures through advanced materials. We hope to open the imaginations and enhance the creativity of materials scientists and engineers through this tool that allows them to explore chemistries, formulations, and additives that were previously precluded in traditional vat polymerization systems. We are engineering this platform so that new advanced materials can be constructed intelligently and sustainably, fundamentally transforming how manufacturers utilize additive manufacturing.