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Can Fiber Orientation Be Automated?

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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

As additive material properties become more advanced, application space is opening up across industries for both tooling and end use parts.  Use cases that were unthinkable 10 years ago are now common due to breakthroughs in nearly all modes of Additive.

One of the key challenges we face as an industry is getting customers to accept new materials on the basis of properties, versus the names of widely used legacy materials.  The more the industry pushes the boundaries on traditionally used materials, the more friction we need to overcome. 

 At Fortify, we’re hyper focused on extending the limits of material properties.  We accomplish this by adding fiber reinforcement to the highest performance photopolymers on the market. The results are stronger, stiffer, and tougher materials.

However, the “name game” is challenging. We’re opening the conversation for experienced perspectives, advice, and opinions about the best way to communicate about our materials with the industry at large. 

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.

Today’s manufacturing industry is marked by an unprecedented access to data. What many call Industry 4.0 has brought forth an era where manufacturers can know everything that’s happening on the factory floor. This means better transparency and more opportunities for optimizing the manufacturing process. At the same time, Internet technology opens up data security risks, and many companies are overwhelmed with a deluge of raw data.

Robotics, 3D printing, and IoT technology are major technologies that are transforming the manufacturing industry. Manufacturers have long been concerned with saving time and money and seeking technology to get ahead of the curve, but today’s industry is vastly different than it was just a few years ago. Advancements in technology are spurring a race for efficiency while simultaneously creating the problem of data overload. Recent manufacturing trends show key insights into how companies are adapting to these ever-changing times.

The world of professional 3D printing offers an abundance of materials. Gone are the days when your options were limited to a few cheap plastics. With recent breakthroughs in professional 3D printing, nylon, stainless steel, carbon fiber, and other advanced materials are in reach. Because 3D printing can create nearly any geometry quickly and easily, this method is often the best choice over traditional fabrication, regardless of the material.

3D printing has more material options than ever before, but it can be hard to decide which material is the best for your project. Whether you’re creating a prototype, tool, or end-use product, choosing the right material is essential. The most common classes of 3D printing materials are plastics, metals, and composites. Plastics are the most popular 3D printing material, but metal and composite 3D printers are on the rise, combining the automation of 3D printing with high-performance materials.

Composites unite many of the best qualities that traditional materials have to offer. The two components of a composite include a reinforcement (often a high-performance fiber such as carbon or glass) and a matrix (such as epoxy polymer). The matrix binds the reinforcement together to merge the benefits of both original components.

Composites are improving the design process and end products across industries, from aerospace to renewable energy. Each year, composites continue to replace traditional materials like steel and aluminum. As composite costs come down and design flexibility improves, fiber-reinforced composites like carbon fiber and fiberglass open up new design opportunities for engineers.

Imagine creating fully-optimized composite materials with the press of a button. Magnetic 3D printing, or Fluxprint, does just that. No complex fabrication, no sub-par materials. Just custom composites within hours.

Fluxprint is an additive manufacturing process that creates precisely-tailored composites such as carbon fiber. This method combines the benefits of 3D printing and composites. Composites are among the most advanced materials available. 3D printing is an incredibly fast, hands-off fabrication process that can form nearly any geometry. Fluxprint goes a step further by precisely tailoring composites voxel-by-voxel to create the ideal material for a project.

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