Carbon fiber materials and carbon-reinforced polymers can replace metal for lighter, more ergonomic tooling. Add to that the power of additive manufacturing to print the part, rather than machine it, and you can significantly reduce both your part weight and tooling lead time. In this article, we are going to review the differences in printable carbon fiber materials and the machines capable of printing them to understand how the 3D printing industry has created approachable solutions for just about every level of production.
Benefits of Using Carbon Fiber
3D printable composite carbon fiber filaments contain carbon fibers suspended in a polymer matrix composed of plastics, such as nylon or ABS, to produce strong, light-weight, carbon fiber-like parts with superior three-dimensional strength and accuracy. Typical applications include manufacturing tools, jigs, fixtures and end effectors that benefit from the combination of increased stiffness and reduced weight.
- Stiffness - For applications that require parts hold their form with minimal flex, such as automotive brackets or inspection gauges.
- Strength-to-Weight - A formidable tensile strength makes carbon fiber ideal for lightweight alternatives to metal parts such as robotic end effectors.
- Heat Deflection - When exposed to heat other materials can deform under pressure. Nylon carbon fiber, like Nylon 12CF from Stratasys, offers high heat deflection making it great for higher temp under-hood and tooling applications.
Practical Carbon Fiber 3D Printing
You have identified the need to 3D print carbon fiber materials, but why limit yourself to only printing in that one material? From a practical and financial standpoint, you should consider investing in a 3D printer that offers reliable and accurate printing in a variety of commonly sought-after materials (like ABS, ASA, PLA, and TPU) as well as carbon fiber options.
The Stratasys F123 series is an ideal printer that is robust enough for shop work, but is self-contained and quiet enough that it can be used in an office setting as well. As well as being easy to use, it comes with the material catalog to meet the needs of a host of applications.
In 2021, Stratasys announced the new ABS-CF10 material which combines the increased mechanical benefits of a carbon fiber filament with the ease of use, soluble support, and surface quality of traditional ABS 3D printing material. The result is an engineering thermoplastic with superior strength and rigidity for factory floor tooling applications.
The F123 series consists of several 3D printers that have been designed with different build sizes, materials capacities and material options in order to offer several different price-points for the machine. Fortunately, the ability to print ABS-CF10 is available across the entire series no matter what platform model you select.
Exploratory Carbon Fiber 3D Printing
Depending on your application, carbon fiber may be the ideal solution for end-use assemblies and manufacturing tools. Alternately, you may be experimenting with additive manufacturing for key components and exploring different 3D materials, including carbon fiber, for the design and manufacturing of production parts.
Unlike what you may think of when you hear the name "MakerBot," the Method X series has been designed for professionals who need immediate access to a 3D printer in order to speed up their design cycles. This Stratasys patented technology offers production-level design features such as a circulating heated chamber, ultra-rigid metal frame and dry-sealed material bays for enhanced material performance. All of this comes at a very attractive price-point, allowing organizations to expand their 3D printing capabilities to a larger scale.
The Method series also has an option for open platform materials which means there are more material options that are not just made exclusively by MakerBot. With the experimental LABS extruder, engineers can access an extended library of polymer options while experimenting with materials options for their application.
Production-Level Carbon Fiber 3D Printing
At this level of 3D printing and design, carbon fiber is likely a key component of your production process and you would require either larger single parts or a larger quantity. In a production environment or factory floor, you would be looking to use carbon fiber’s exceptional stiffness and resilience for highly demanding parts that may have limited manufacturing feasibility, or are cost prohibitive to produce using traditional materials and processes.
The Fortus Series from Stratasys were some of the first 3D printers to offer composite carbon fiber options with a level of consistency and reliability that have made them production level tools across a wide range of industries. Depending on your needs for material and size they run the gamut of available engineering grade materials from carbon fiber to ULTEM and even carbon nano tube loaded Antero.
In conclusion, if your project requires the need for stiff, durable, light-weight, complex, or cost-effective tooling or parts – you owe it to yourself to learn more about Stratasys FDM filament printers and their line of carbon fiber reinforced materials.
Need help determining which material and process is best for your specific application? Connect with one of our application experts to understand all the carbon fiber options available for your specific need.