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Introduction

Fortify was founded to improve the way high performance composites are made. Traditional manufacturing techniques for these components are burdened with long lead times and high upfront costs. Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, is establishing itself as a clear disruptor for low and moderate performance applications. However, this approach has been “stuck” in its quest for truly high performance materials needed for the most demanding applications.

At Fortify, we developed a platform that approaches composite 3D printing/additive manufacturing in a more intelligent and comprehensive way. Digital Composite Manufacturing (DCM) finds the balance between speed and strength, producing materials that are strong and tough at speeds faster than ever before.

Traditional Composite Manufacturing

Composites are stronger, lighter, and stiffer than traditional manufacturing materials. With all the added benefits of composites and seemingly endless applications, they are replacing traditional manufacturing materials in a wide range of applications across industries.

One key factor limiting growth, is the manufacturing of composites relies on labor-intensive and artisanal methods, a heavy investment of time and resources. This limits the number of materials that can be manufactured, the geometries of parts, and stifles the potential applications in which they can be utilized.

While composite materials are far superior, the required manufacturing processes are too complicated and expensive to scale. Fortify’s DCM platform was developed to address this cost/performance gap and combines the speed and flexibility of additive manufacturing with the performance of composites.

Traditional composite manufacturing is a high skill, high labor content process

Current State of 3D Printed Composites

Early work to integrate glass and carbon fibers into 3D print materials have provided exciting results and shown significant breakthroughs in certain properties. However, a common limitation the technology faces has been to control the orientation of fibers for maximum impact. DCM overcomes this serious challenge by enabling localized control of fibers throughout parts as they are printed.

Foundational Research

The concept of DCM originated from Josh Martin’s work with Randall Erb at Northeastern University as they studied the development of advanced materials. Captured by the strength of materials found nature, Martin & Erb worked to mimic the organic, reinforced architecture and develop stronger manufactured materials. Could the biological principles from materials such as bone and shell, be reproduced with engineering materials including carbon fiber and polymers? Replicating these complex structures, it turns out, can only be achieved through a novel additive manufacturing technique.

Bio-inspired composites

Highly complex composite structures found in nature are the inspiration for Fortify’s technology

The roots of DCM were developed here – the marriage of biological principles and architectural concepts and applying them to additive manufacturing. Software and hardware work together construct composite materials inspired by nature.

Function Dictates Form

Mother Nature learned centuries ago how to arrange fibers in elegant, organic ways to create “super materials” – strong, lightweight structures like bamboo and seashells. Thousands of years later, DCM uses software and magnetics to mimic these results with synthetic materials. Coated fibers are carefully aligned at a microscopic level to optimize material properties for a new generation of man-made super materials.

These super materials can be tailored for individual applications and produced – on demand – anywhere in the world without high costs, or specialized labor. This exciting innovation will drive composites and additive manufacturing into new frontiers.