Holy cow, 3D printed carbon fiber is crazy strong.
I got to check out some sample carbon fiber prints made on the Mark One printer at the MarkForged booth at CES 2015. The light weight and the rock-solid feel of the pieces kind of blew my mind.
The carbon fiber printing they’re doing wasn’t exactly what I expected when I heard about their printer — the machine doesn’t produce angular, stealth fighter-esque pieces with the telltale CF pattern seen on racing bikes and souped up Mustangs. Instead, it creates an FDM 3D print out of nylon filament (rather than ABS or PLA), and during the process it layers in a thin strip of carbon fiber, melted into place from carbon fiber fabric using a second extruder head. (It can also add in kevlar or fiberglass.)
That thin CF strip is all it takes to go from plastic to steel.
The MarkForged team brought two identical brackets to CES — long, thin pieces. Not entirely surprising, the parts mount spoilers to race cars. One bracket was made from pure nylon. The other contained two paper-thin strips of carbon fiber embedded inside. The nylon unit, while tougher than something I could probably break with my bare hands, was pliable when bent. But the carbon fiber part, although the same weight and only appearing to have CF the thickness of a few sheets of paper, would not budge at all. Rock solid.
According to the MarkForged team, the CF pieces even have a higher strength-to-weight ratio than 6061 aluminum. This allows them to create fully functional parts on their printer, rather than pieces prototyped simply for fit before being machined from metal. This leads to faster design time and lower production costs — the sample nylon part cost $9 to make, while the useable carbon fiber part is only $19.
The printer’s output is also surprisingly refined — the shells feel smooth without any sanding or finishing. Greg Mark, the MIT-educated CEO of the company, explained that the nylon-only parts can be used on jigs for cleanly bending tubes and more, due to the combination of the strength and pliable nature of the nylon.
The printer is an exciting step forward for 3D printing — blending in exotic new materials for advanced purposes. Along with Voxel8’s printer that adds the ability to lay down conductive traces into 3D printed designs, it’s one of the coolest things we saw at CES this year.
The Mark One is available now, and costs $5500.