Applications

Can Fiber Orientation Be Automated?

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Written by Karlo Delos Reyes, VP of Applications

Fiber alignment is a key driver in the mechanical performance of composite parts. In the world of injection molding, where fiber alignment is typically dictated by shear forces and resin flow, molders are beholden to intricate design techniques and complex gating strategies to influence fiber alignment. This is a complex process with many tradeoffs.

The effect of fiber orientation on properties such as tensile strength, and stiffness are well documented. The mechanical properties of a part are strongest along the axis of the fibers and degrade as orientation moves off that axis.

 

Because fiber alignment is critical to achieving optimal material properties, many groups have looked into methods of aligning fiber in an additively manufactured part. The most commonly used method is to compound an engineering thermoplastic (FFF feedstock) with short fibers and utilize the shear forces exerted upon the bead during extrusion to orient fibers along the extrusion direction. This method, however, has many limits, as complex alignment paradigms are not so easy to employ. This method also has limitations typical of FFF, such as extreme anisotropy.

Fortify is rising to this challenge – creating additive manufacturing solutions to enable engineering grade material properties with control over fiber alignment. 

 

The first solution that Fortify’s engineers have developed is CKM (Continuous Kinetic Mixing; Read more about the CKM technology here). This system allows for the incorporation of engineering additives, such as fibers, into a photopolymer. This system gives FLUX 3D printers the ability to process and print highly viscous, filled materials.

Fluxprint, a module that enables the printer to orient fibers during the DLP 3D printing process, takes this a step further. Fluxprint utilizes custom electromagnets to apply a magnetic field across the build area during printing to align reinforcing fibers. This enables an increase in mechanical performance of 3D printed parts for applications that undergo stressful conditions, such as injection mold tooling.

Fiber Alignment Improves Molding Outcomes

The ability to align fibers optimally throughout a part is exciting, but that ability does have a cost.  The challenge of determining optimal alignment and then embedding that information into a print file is a new step in the additive manufacturing workflow.  In some applications that extra effort is well worth the effort.

For the mold tooling application, Fortify engineers have determined that a predetermined fiber orientation scheme throughout the part is the best approach.  This provides the benefits of fiber alignment without the overhead of programming.

Fortify developed a programmed alignment scheme for injection mold tools that thread the needle between optimal material properties and manufacturing time.

To validate and perfect the approach, Fortify’s applications engineers designed a developmental mold geometry to serve as a “torture test” that is meant to quantitatively assess the nuanced difference in mold performance between materials, alignment schemes, and processing conditions.

3D printed mold tool core CAVITY - 3D Printed mold tool

This test geometry contained over 30 unique features that simulate various injection molded geometries, such as tall extrusions, fine textures, blind pockets, and shut-offs. To acquire the most usable data from this tool, the engineers included varying levels of difficulty for each of these features by varying dimensions such as draft angle and aspect ratio.

To determine the effect of fiber alignment on molding outcomes, two variations of the same tool were printed:

  1. No optimized fiber alignment – with random fiber orientation
  2. Optimized fiber alignment – Fluxprint was used to align fibers in the pre-determined alignment scheme

These two tools were then processed on Fortify’s 30 ton injection molder using the same exact molding and processing conditions, and feature failures were logged. The results demonstrated significant improvements in tools with the pre-programmed fiber alignment using Fluxprint. 

The mold that utilized magnetic alignment of fibers (Fluxprint) exhibited 80% less feature failures than the tool that was printed without Fluxprint. More importantly, difficult features, such as fins and tall extrusions more frequently survived the molding process in the tool that underwent Fluxprint. These difficult features are typically a common failure of 3D printed mold tools. The tool that was printed with Fluxprint had many of the standing features outlast the tool without Fluxprint

The value of 3D printed mold tools – cost savings, time savings, validating designs, prototyping, etc. – can only be truly realized if the tools can hold up to the harsh conditions of the injection molding . Historically, 3D printed tools have not been able to perform for these low-volume applications – with failures seen as early as the first shot.

By leveraging CKM and Fluxprint – with the preset fiber orientation scheme – Fortify is able to create short run tools that can process harder plastics with greater tool life.

See the difference for yourself in this video that compares Fortify’s 3D printed mold tools that use Fluxprint compared to other 3D printed parts. 

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON PLASTICS TECHNOLOGY – Written by VP of Business Development, Ben Arnold

The use of 3D printed injection mold tooling has been discussed, debated and tested extensively over the past 20 years. Implementation of the technology has steadily gained traction. While the technology is still far from “commonplace,” true innovators have now fully embraced it across many industries.

Even during the current global pandemic, interest is strong and suppliers like Fortify are seeing a rash of new inquiries.

Advances in both metal and polymer 3D printing technologies have helped drive the acceptance of 3D printed tooling around the general themes of lower cost and faster turnaround. A frequent customer question that comes up is, “Which is better?” This article outlines that “better” is the wrong metric. Instead, molders should be looking at the key differences between metal and polymer 3D printed tooling, and where in the product lifecycle each technology fits best. (Spoiler: 3D printed mold tools should be leveraged for prototype injection molding).

Time is Money

While both technologies offer significant COST and TIME advantages, the way these benefits are calculated is vastly different. Users of polymer based cores and cavities, focus on the TIME it takes to get first shots in hand. These molds can be printed and run within a few days. Multiple design iterations can be validated within a single week with this approach – essential for prototype injection molding. Users can cut months of time from new product releases. One tradeoff to consider is polymer 3D printed tooling does run longer cycle times as the molds do not cool quickly. These longer cycles are typically acceptable as required part quantities are low during the early prototype stage.Cooling for mold tooling

The COST of polymer based 3D printed tooling also has important tradeoffs to consider.  Polymer based tools can be printed for  60-90% less than metal (several hundred dollars or less versus $3,000 – $8,000 for metal).  While these savings are compelling, tool lifetime needs to be factored in to get a true picture. Metal tools can be expected to last tens or hundreds of thousands of cycles while polymer tool life is typically measured in hundreds of shots.

 

In early lifecycle stages, when 50-100 parts are needed, this equation is easy to solve.

 

Polymer 3D printed tools can be outsourced to a service bureau, or produced on in-house equipment for fastest response times. In either case, polymer based tools require some design considerations to get best results.  This includes more generous draft angles and venting strategies.  A more complete review of designer considerations for using 3D Printed Polymer tools can be found (here.)

Regardless of your sourcing strategy 3D printed polymer mold tools, it’s wise to work with a supplier that has deep technical knowledge of the application and can help you make the right design choices.

The capital investment for polymer 3D printers ranges from under $10,000 to several hundred thousand.  Choosing the right printer is dependent upon build capacity and material properties needed for a specific application.  Molding engineering grade plastics like ABS, PCs, Nylons and higher, requires 3D printed mold tooling that is printed with very high performance materials that are not typically available to run on entry level printers. 

Materials used on Fortify's mold tools

Courtesy of Fortify. Numbers above represent tools using Fortify Digital Tooling. Other 3D printed polymer tools will have limited materials and performance.

With 3D printed metal tooling, TIME advantages are focused on cycle time and productivity.  The key attribute of the metal technology is the ability to fabricate molds with sophisticated conformal cooling channels that allow faster cycle times. This is a natural fit for high volume scenarios where cycle times are critical. Conformal cooling channels are simply not possible to manufacture with traditional machining techniques.  Note that conformal cooling benefits do not translate to polymer based tools with their low heat transfer coefficient.

The COST savings associated with metal 3D printed tooling are typically realized on the production floor – not in the building of the tool itself. Metal 3D printers and materials are expensive, and the molds require significant post processing and machining before they can be put into production. Some exciting new technologies are available now that integrate additive and subtractive technologies and help close this gap.  Material choices and quality levels of metal 3D printed molds are also trending upward making this option more attractive.   

As the mold cost gap between traditional and 3D printed metal tools narrows, the big payoff for using metal 3D printed mold tools continues to be higher press utilization rates.  For example, when cycle times are reduced by 20% the press utilization goes up 20%.  Molders can get more parts out the door each day with the same capital equipment.  More parts shipped = more money and higher customer satisfaction.

 

molding requirements product lifecyle graphThe two faces of 3D printed mold tooling don’t actually compete – rather they compliment each other as products make their way from concept through maturity.  

Conformal cooling design is not practical at the prototype injection molding  stage when designs are still evolving.  Likewise, polymer based tools, with longer cycle times and limited life  are not a practical solution for volume production. 

One theme that is consistent with both technologies is they both require an investment and commitment on the part of the molder to learn how to best leverage the technology.  This is the basis for building a sustainable competitive advantage in the market.

At Fortify, we are focused on raising the bar for 3D printed polymer tooling by incorporating reinforcing fiber to the material.  These tools can withstand “challenging materials” to provide plenty of shots for prototype injection molding

 

 

 

SUMMARY OF METAL VS POLYMER 3D PRINTED MOLD TOOLING

 

metal vs. polymer 3d printed mold tooling

An often overlooked, but key enabling aspect of additive manufacturing, is the software suite, workflows, algorithms that allow the user to create, adapt, and manufacture 3D printed parts. The true power of additive can not be fully realized without the software, hardware, and materials working in concert.

One of the main facets of any 3D printing software is the slicing tool path generation that generates the g-code that tells the printer each individual layer to print. With a proper slicing tool built into the software, a user is able to not only visually see each layer, but can also make any adjustments necessary, whether it’s layer height, overhangs, or any other changes to set your part up on the build plate. You can also set up your orientation, how many parts you want to put into a single print, and generate supports where needed. 

 

Another component of software is the user interface on the printer itself. This takes many shapes and forms depending on the type of printer. Visually, the interface should be set up to optimize the user experience. More importantly, it should provide essential information to the user about material level, print status, error notifications, etc. It’s important the interface works in tandem with the printer, alerting users when something needs attention, and stopping a print.

Fluxhost 3D printing software.    Fluxhost 3D printing software maintenance

 

The value in 3D printing is that you can create more economical, faster and sustainable manufacturing processes than traditional manufacturing methods. Without the 3D printing software to put those checks in place, you run the risk of creating inefficiencies and failed prints.

At Fortify, we have a seasoned software team developing applications that further unlock the capabilities of the FLUX ONE printer, while enabling the user through design and user experience. With the introduction of Compass (Fortify’s software platform), a user can easily create and manage build files, optimize for various parameters such as print speed, and share files with other users. These files are then seamlessly transitioned into Fluxhost, the onboard printer controller.

Check out some of the pro-tips below from actual use cases. 

1. Pro-Tip: Monitor Prints with a Camera

3D printing software onboard camera

3D printing software onboard camera

Printer Cam

What is it: Through the use of the onboard camera, users can monitor the progress of a print by observing the peeling mechanism from underneath the reservoir.

Why it matters: With traditional bottom-up DLP and SLA printers, it’s difficult to monitor your print as the part is submerged in the reservoir for potentially several hours. Without the ability to closely monitor the process, errors printing in your part can be missed – wasting time and resources. 

How to use it: To use this feature, simply touch the Camera button on the right side of the screen to pull up the Camera module. This view can be called upon anytime the printer is in Printing mode.

Use Case: While the print is progressing, turn on the Camera module to observe each layer plunge and peel. You’ll also be able to observe the outline of the layer, which should be an exact replica of the projected image.

 

2. Pro-Tip: Avoid 3 Common Printing Errors

Fortify's 3D Printing Software slicer

Fortify’s 3D Printing Software slicer

What is it: Compass can help you avoid these three common printing mistakes:

a. Overlapping parts (slicer preview)

b. Out of bounds parts (slicer red areas)

c. Overhangs and unsupported features

Why it Matters: When preparing a build, it is often useful to fact check the slices (the 2 dimensional images that stack to create a 3 dimensional part) to ensure print success. Things that may not seem obvious from general observation, such as overlapping parts, can cause build failures and lost productivity. Through Compass 3D printing software, we’ve implemented tools to directly point out different failure modes so that they can be addressed pre-print. For example, we highlight both overlapping and out-of-bounds parts so that these can be immediately remedied.

Use Case: One major pain point we’re looking to address is to validate if a part will print and have no unsupported features. Without an easy to use slicing tool, you’re left exporting the files and manually checking each image for unsupported features. Using our slicing tool, you can easily scrolls through the slices of the print to ensure that there are no features that will print unsupported.

 

 

Compass overlapping parts

Compass slicer view multiple parts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Pro-Tip: Leave the Guesswork Behind

What is it: Fluxhost (the software interface on Fortify printers) is designed to keep the user from having to worry about guesswork when it comes to reservoir levels, maintenance, and more.

Why it matters: All large pieces of equipment have a handful of wear components that need to be replaced after a certain number of cycles. Much like the filter in your AC unit, many users forget or neglect to perform proper maintenance, which leads to poor results. Proper care of printers leads to successful prints and longer lasting pieces of hardware. Instead of having to refer to a manual (that you’ve probably misplaced or have in some file on your computer) Fluxhost takes the guesswork out for you. Fluxhost has alerts and monitors built in.

How to use it: It’s automatically set up on the Fluxhost platform.  Some screen shots below show examples of the alerts and notifications the user will see.

Use Case: On the Flux One system, one parameter that should be monitored is the resin level. When the resin level gets too low, the screen will intelligently alert you to add more resin into the mixer drawer. 

Resin level low alert Fluxhost reset film window

 

 

 

 

 

 

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:

 

Materials: Mechanical Performance
Materials: Electrical Performance
Fortify DT+ (Digital Tooling)

Fortify HT (High Temperature)

Fortify ET (Enhanced Toughness)

Fortify FR (Flame Resistant)

Fortify WR (Wear Resistant)

Ceramic Matrix Materials

Fortify LL (Low Loss) Family

Fortify EC (Electrically Conductive)

 

 

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. 

This post was written by Applications Engineer, Ben MacDonald

Injection molding has become the go-to manufacturing solution for plastic components. In 2019, the global injection molded plastics market size valued at $258.2B billion. Injection molded parts are used in a variety of industries and the application space is only expected to continue to grow. Even in automotive, plastics are trending to replace metals and alloys with injection molded plastics. 

The economics behind injection molding parts is advantageous for molders, especially when the required part quantity is greater than 100,000. Though the dominant cost of injection molding is the high capital investment of a machined metal mold, once this mold is made, the costs of producing parts are minimal. Combine this with cycle times of 30 seconds or less and injection molding is a cost-effective solution for high-volume production. Even though the up-front cost of an injection mold is significant, molders can easily justify the expense based on the body of work that goes into completing a mold including:

  • Maintaining extremely tight tolerances ensuring proper fit of a mold and its components 
  • Accounting for the shrinkage of molded parts upon cooling so they are geometrically accurate 
  • Controlling the surface finish of a mold, specific to the desired material for the specific part

Today, this is done with a hardened steel as it is the material of choice to withstand the intense requirements of a production run greater than 100,000 parts. 

The Molders’ Dilemma

What happens when you aren’t producing hundreds of thousands of parts on a mold? With numerous industries (like electric vehicles) looking at low-volume production, how can molders justify the high cost of a tool when you are producing only hundreds of parts? Furthermore, because of the high cost of prototype tooling (sometimes called soft tooling or bridge tooling) designers find it impossible to rationalize properly prototyping parts. Rather than molding 10 iterations of a single part in their end-use plastic, designers are forced to take their best guess at which version will be the best for their specific application, relying on sub-par rapid prototyped parts in the interim for form, fit, and function assessment. After waiting 6-8 weeks for a tool, they either realize they selected the right design or, more often than not, have to accept the design being just good enough. In the worst case, the design is completely wrong wasting both time and money that was invested in the mold.

3D Printing as a Solution

This is exactly where 3D printing injection molds step up to the plate. The ability to rapidly print and mold parts is game changing for part designers. 3D printed tooling exhibits faster lead times (1-2 days) at a fraction of the cost of machined soft tooling, making them a viable candidate for molders who are looking at the economics behind a tool that is only used for small volumes. Additionally, 3D printed mold tools enable designers to print and mold multiple iterations of a part. This gives them freedom to explore many more designs and confidence that their final design will be the right design. Using a 3D printed mold tool from Fortify gives part designers flexibility to mold geometries in a variety of engineering-grade plastics so that their prototypes can match their final parts. Because Fortify’s tools are fiber-reinforced they are able to maintain their stiffness and withstand the high temperatures of injection molding.

Integrating 3D printed tools into your injection molding operation for prototyping and low volume production starts with understanding the differences in the tools and how that affects how you design, machine, and run a tool. 

The obvious fundamental difference between steel molds and printed molds is the material they are made out of. A good rule of thumb is to design 3D printed tools to be more “forgiving” than a steel tool. For instance:

  • Shut off angle: In a steel tool, it is recommended to have an angle of at least 3 degrees when designing shut off features. Any less and you run the risk of the features wearing out or breaking too quickly. For a 3D printed tool instead of 3 degrees, 5 degrees is recommended 
  • Draft angle: Draft angles of features on steel tools are typically 1 or 2 degrees, and can go down to 0.5 degrees or less. 3D printed tools follow that same trend, except 3 degrees is recommended, and certain features are able to be molded with much less.
  • Ejector pin: Determining the placement of ejector pins on a mold so a part doesn’t break during ejection is important. In steel tools this is pretty straightforward and usually minimizes the amount of ejector pins needed. In 3D printed tools, designs need to also consider small and delicate features, and have pins placed so that the parts won’t flex during ejection. This can be accomplished by placing a pin next to a high aspect ratio extrusion or at the base of a rib rather than next to a rib. The great thing about adding in all of these ejector pins is that they provide excellent opportunities for ventilation. 
  • Ventilation:  3D printed molds are unable to withstand the kind of pressures that steel molds can endure. One way to compensate for this is to add in more ventilation than there otherwise would be in a steel tool. This can take the form of surface vents, ejector pins, and vent holes to name a few. The goal with this ventilation is to always give the air in the cavity an easy path to escape so that the flow of the plastic is never restricted. 

By understanding and accepting these design differences, molders can realize significant success when molding parts. Additionally, 3D printing molds can give designers much more freedom. If a designer wanted to iterate on two features within a complete mold, they don’t have to print multiple iterations of the mold. They can simply design the features as inserts for one common mold. Furthermore, fine details and complex geometries don’t cost extra to print (unlike EDM for traditional tools), and designers are able to add in detail that would significantly drive up the cost of a steel tool. 

As 3D printed injection mold tooling continues to be adopted, it is important for both part and mold designers to learn how to best design for additive. A good design will drive success. There are plenty more tips on best practices for designing, machining, and running 3D printed injection mold tools. Join us and MMT for an upcoming webinar on  Best Practices for Use of Reinforced 3D Printed Injection Mold Tools this Thursday, February 20, 2020. Register today!

Numerous industries around us are in the midst of a movement towards electrification. An excellent example of this, and the one likely to have one of the highest impacts on the global market, is the passenger vehicle. Tesla and Cybertruck aside, major automobile manufacturers are contributing to the development of our electric vehicle  (EV) future. Beyond that, automotive OEMs continue to introduce more computer systems, accessories, and other features that rely on electronic interconnectivity to function. Furthermore, new industries like delivery drones and autonomous robots continue to emerge, preparing to surpass the niche category label and enter into the mainstream global market. Widespread infrastructure will be required to support this approaching electrification, which will inevitably create similar growth in associated supporting markets.

As these market shifts continue, more players and products will emerge and electrical connector manufacturers will need to remain nimble to continue to support existing and new customers. OEMs like the four North American connector giants (TE Connectivity, Aptiv, Molex, and Amphenol) may be serving a market that is characterized by a wider range of products that are manufactured at smaller volumes. Electrical connector shells and housings are mostly an injection molded product. In the case of injection molding, the most expensive part and longest lead time tends to be the manufacturing of the injection mold hard tooling. At high volumes, the cost of the tool is amortized over a large volume of parts, and makes excellent economical sense. However, to make a similar part at small volumes, the costly tool can be expensive enough to make a small-batch product run not economically viable. Most EV manufacturers are manufacturing less than 200,000 units per year, with more and more players entering this market. Finding new solutions will be essential to support the growth of these markets.

Fortify’s approach is modeled after fiber-reinforced injection molded plastic parts. Fiber reinforcement in a molded part shows 20-100% increase in mechanical properties such as strength, stiffness, and HDT. This proven uptick in material performance is why the market for reinforced plastic parts continues to grow. Fortify is applying this same methodology to end use manufacturing applications like electrical connectors. By adding reinforced fibers to the right materials during the printing process, Fortify can realize increases in electro-mechanical properties needed for high performance parts while also meeting the economic requirements of small volume manufacturing. 

Small volumes and bespoke solutions are a perfect fit for 3D printing. Employing 3D printing can introduce both cost and lead time efficiencies. Smart and effective implementation of 3D printing onto the factory floor will enable economically viable low volume manufacturing runs and also shorten lead times by eliminating the need for tooling altogether. 

The AM industry has started to engage with this product market fit. Collaborations with 3D printing companies and connector companies have started to see some real progress, however, challenges still remain. 3D printing OEMs are working to find THE breakthrough material + process combination that will eliminate the barrier to full AM adoption for production applications. What’s holding 3D printing back? In the case of electrical connectors, the culprit is a combination of material properties and print resolution. 

Can 3D Printed Connectors Meet Auto Industry Standards

Looking closely at standard automotive electrical connectors, many housings and shells are made primarily from glass-filled engineering grade thermoplastics like PBT, PPS, or nylon. There are no players in the field who can directly 3D print PBT or PPS, but nylon has been available in 3D printing for decades – there are also glass-filled options available. For FDM and SLS, the two major commercial thermoplastic additive manufacturing technologies, there are severe limitations tied to the unavoidable physics of the technology. These processes cannot meet the resolution, surface finish, wall thickness, hole size, and tolerance requirements that are demanded of a commercial multi-cavity electrical connector. Some DLP and SLA solutions have the capability to reach these resolution requirements, but they can not print with the industry-standard thermoplastic materials like nylon and PBT, or match their properties that are critical for this application.

There are DLP and SLA companies working hard to improve their resin formulations that come closer to the high level requirements of electrical connector applications. The ability to print a part that is tough enough to survive several drops on concrete factory floors yet is also capable of surviving extended thermal cycling up to 150℃ is an engineering challenge for photopolymer material scientists. Achieving specific characteristics like high temperature resistance combined with increased toughness can unlock access to big commercial opportunities for applications in aggressive environments – like in an engine compartment or areas exposed to dramatic weather conditions. Chemical manufacturers like BASF, DSM, and Henkel have developed high temperature and V0 flammability rating engineering photopolymers with an eye on tackling the tough automotive electrical connector requirements, but a complete solution is not yet available. If our industry continues to focus on improving material properties in photocurable thermoset systems, we will be able to achieve both the resolution and material properties necessary for electrical connectors. Fortify is working with material partners to improve material performance for production parts, including electrical connectors, to meet automotive (and other industry) requirements. 

With the global shift towards electrification of high value products, and continuous development of 3D printable materials teetering on the precipice of full engineering-level performance characteristics, the market is prepared for a solution. With continued collaboration between the 3D printing material developers and electrical connector OEMS, it won’t be long before we start to see real 3D printed solutions enter into this global market. 

If you have an electrical connector application you would like to explore reach out to us today

This post was written by Sr. Applications Engineer, Phil Lambert. 

Two weeks after the largest Additive Manufacturing trade show, and the roundup articles are still flowing in. With several insights from industry experts, there are a lot, and we mean A LOT of new companies entering the market, while veteran companies continue to break ground with new product announcements. How do you filter through the noise? Whose technology is actually differentiated, and what applications and industries are starting to adopt these technologies?

In addition to the roundups commenting on the sheer size of this year’s show, the number of new companies displaying, and the general signs of a growing and maturing industry, Fortify has a few more general insights and takeaways from this year’s Formnext:

  • There were many new DLP printers on display, yet there was little variation in the technology and range of material properties. We will be keeping an eye out for what DLP printers are solving new problems and differentiating themselves.
  • Adoption for true additive manufacturing remains slow. Dental applications, medical implants, and jewelry seem to be the industries that are seeing real adoption., but the question remains at large for many technologies: what additional killer applications will drive the next waves further disruption of AM?
  • There were many companies across the entire supply chain rather than just the printer OEMs including: post-processing, materials, and software companies. It will be interesting to see what partnerships and acquisitions form across the supply chain as the industry continues to mature.
  • It’s increasingly hard for companies to stand out from the crowd as every niche seems to have multiple competitors.

Can yet another startup standout?

3D Printing Media Network commented in their roundupCeramics and composites are getting closer to real automated production, with some very intense in-segment competition and several new players entering the market as startups and spinoffs.” 

We couldn’t agree more.

There were a lot of composites on display this year, which is an indication of a fast growing segment of 3D printing. Let’s take a look at why composites are hotter than ever and what this means for the different players out there.

First let’s define a composite as two or more materials – a reinforcement and a matrix – that are combined to produce a new material offering different and improved characteristics than each of its individual materials.

Composites (or as we like to call them – fiber reinforced polymers) are widely sought after because of their incredible material properties. Carbon fiber is just one example, offering high strength to weight ratio. You might add other fibers if you seek better toughness, wear resistance, and conductive properties. Glass, ceramic, copper flake, Teflon, and even mica are different fibers that are used to fill polymers. 

Injection molded parts that are fiber filled typically show 20 to 100% increases in strength, stiffness and HDT.  Additive manufacturing is hungry for this type of step change in 3D printed parts, and it is no wonder that composites are gaining traction.  Figuring out how to print fiber-reinforced materials to capitalize on these properties have proven to be a challenge.  

This year’s Formnext featured many continuous fiber thermoplastic printers. This type of technology delivers greater load distribution and strength along the X/Y axis. However, continuous fibers cannot penetrate small, delicate regions of complex geometries, which can be the very areas of the part requiring the greatest reinforcement.

Chopped fiber solutions open up many more options for users in both extrusion and SLS based thermoplastic materials.  . Unlike continuous fiber, chopped fibers are able to reinforce small geometries, such as overhangs. Chopped fiber composites are also more affordable, faster and easier to use than continuous fiber. It’s important to note that with chopped fiber, the strength of the printed part is dependent on the percent fiber used and materials will suffer from anisotropy due to layering effects. 

Using a thermoset resin, Fortify has developed a method for absolute control of fibers in a reinforced polymer, creating a composite with highly sought isotropic material properties. 

 So to answer our question above, yes – we do think another startup can stand out – especially with a differentiating technology that leads to newly additive material properties.

What to look for at Formnext 2020

Formext 2019 proved the industry is eager for additively manufactured composites, and our crystal ball tells us that we’ll be seeing more of it next year.  We expect to see more continuous fiber solutions, and maybe even some more fiber-filled thermosets. We are hopeful that more people will be talking more about alignment, and understand the importance of fiber control when it comes to fiber-filled composites that are 3D printed.

We believe the industry will continue to grow with more mergers, acquisitions, and partnerships across the supply chain. We are excited and hopeful about the future of the industry, and can feel the momentum moving forward, and we look forward to being a part of it. See you at Formnext 2020! 

This is the continuation of blog post on how nature is inspiring advancements in engineering. Click here to read Part 1.

A few weeks ago, we highlighted some innovative technologies that are drawing inspiration from nature.

To recap, nature is awesome and when it comes to the microstructures that are naturally occurring, function dictates form. There are various applications that are being developed from the study of these microstructures including manufacturing.

As the additive manufacturing industry demands higher performance materials, Fortify draws inspiration from nature where bone, nacre, bamboo, and mantis shrimp exhibit some of the high performance material properties manufacturers seek. We will continue to see more replicas of nature in innovative ways as we continue to learn more about these technologies. Some applications to keep an eye out for.

This blog post is the first of a two part series on how nature is inspiring advancements in engineering materials.

Nature is a constant source of inspiration for engineers. Bird feathers, lotus leaves, eggshells, and squid tentacles may not seem like they have much in common, but every natural material has characteristics that are precisely tuned to thrive under specific environmental challenges

In nature, Function Dictates Form, and materials have precise microstructures that enable survival. Bio-inspired materials are the backbone of Fortify’s additive manufacturing solutions. Fortify is hardly alone in leveraging Mother Nature’s powers. Here are some of our (other) favorite innovations occurring today in the field of biomimicry:

Open source material 3D printing is a hot topic in a hot industry – for good reasons.  For Additive Manufacturing is to go truly mainstream, economics must evolve as buyers want power and leverage in their competitive markets.

Can you imagine mature traditional manufacturing segments working with closed material supplies? What if top CNC suppliers required their customers to run only their branded feedstock?   Or if injection mold presses ran exclusively with one brand of pellets? These scenarios are unimaginable. Yet in additive, it’s a factor we deal with daily.

Over the past decade, open source systems have made tremendous headway across prototyping, manufacturing aids, and a host of low and moderate performance end use part applications.  Filament extrusion (FFF) systems were the first to widely embrace open platforms and lead adoption by a wide margin. This approach has been a huge win as it has dramatically expanded the footprint and impact of our industry.

Pressure towards wider adoption of open systems is intense as major materials companies (BASF, DSM, Corning, Dupont, Henkel, and others) recognize the potential of the additive manufacturing industry and are working aggressively to replicate the strategies that have driven their success in other manufacturing sectors.

However, reliance on closed material systems remains common for more demanding applications, where performance, reliability, and manufacturing grade repeatability are crucial.  This is especially true in photopolymer AM modalities (SLA and DLP) and across the board in metals. While there is plenty of innovation around open materials in these spaces, the adoption rate lags.

This evolutionary adoption is driven by factors like complexity of the technology, IP barriers, and rigors of the applications. In many cases it comes down to who “owns” the performance specifications for parts coming off the machines.  When parts are out of tolerance (easy but costly to verify) or material properties are inconsistent (difficult AND expensive to verify) the business case for AM can quickly go down the drain.

Innovative high performance technologies rely on complex material formulations and very specific processing techniques to get consistent results.  Hardware, software, and innovative materials must work in perfect harmony. Transitioning these processes to a true open source environment takes cooperation between machine suppliers, material suppliers, and customers.   Until customers are prepared to take responsibility for results, this can’t be achieved. True AM pioneer customers recognize this and staff their teams accordingly.  They have the expertise, deep understanding, and an appetite for process verification needed to take advantage of open materials.

Customers with less appetite for this level of expertise and investment benefit greatly when a supplier can provide assurances that the complete ecosystem of systems, materials, and software all work together to the required endpoint.  Equipment suppliers need to adopt and communicate their strategy clearly so customers understand the level of support they can expect.

How open is this relationship?
There are different flavors of open source systems. In a fully open platform, the equipment supplier plays essentially no role in the materials side.  In a qualified ecosystem, the equipment supplier may pre-load or publish settings for specific materials and provide a higher level of support. Material and equipment companies jointly market and support these solutions to the end customer.

Fortify is pursuing a hybrid approach to our open platform.  We partner with leading chemical companies to leverage high-performance base resins.  We then focus our efforts on selecting and tuning our reinforcing additives and software to enhance specific mechanical, thermal, and electrical properties for end use applications.  This “open mindset” approach allows us to innovate quickly to take advantage of new capabilities to meet customer requirements.

We work extensively with each new material system to ensure it consistently achieves the desired results on our platform.

The Future of Open Source 3D Printing
Despite the hurdles to ensure quality and predictability, customers are increasingly interested in open source 3D printing systems.  As various modalities of AM mature and grow, material systems will standardize, spurring adoption rates at the rapid pace long anticipated.

Simultaneously, innovation in new modes of AM will continue to rely on semi-closed ecosystems as they work their way towards maturity.  Suppliers of equipment and materials will choose their strategies carefully as the industry evolves.

If you’re facing challenges finding the right materials for a tough application, maybe a reinforced photopolymer is the answer.  Discuss your needs with the team at Fortify today. Contact applications@3DFortify.com or visit www.3DFortify.com

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