A Dutch company named Royal DSM recently announced a new carbon fiber filament capable of facilitating 3D printing of prototype parts with the same quality as injection molding, despite an extremely low 10% carbon fiber load. The filament is the latest example of some of the 3D printing technology that is making carbon fiber prototyping better.

Prototyping is not new in manufacturing. But it can be a time-consuming process that adds to the cost of developing new products. This is especially true when composite materials are preferred. Prototyping with carbon fiber can be very challenging from both a time and cost perspective. That’s why 3D printing is so important to the industry.

The Prototyping Process

Rock West Composites is a Salt Lake City, Utah company that offers carbon fiber prototyping along with sales of a complete range of composite materials and supplies. When a customer comes to them looking for a prototype, the Rock West team starts by helping the customer design a prototyping process.

Building a prototype might involve a manual layup using dry carbon fiber fabric or prepregs. On the other hand, it might be possible to create the prototype using a specialized 3D printer. Rather than laying down layers of carbon fiber fabric that must then be saturated with epoxy resin and cured, a 3D printer uses molten carbon fiber material to print the desired part in place.

Royal DSM’s new filament makes it possible to print carbon fiber parts that are “stronger, stiffer and tougher with higher tensile strength and modulus, high dimensional stability and free of warpage,” according to an article published by Composites World in mid-September (2018).

The filament allows for depositing carbon fiber material directly onto the printing surface without an underlying structure to hold the material in place. The material hardens as it is being deposited. As such, no high heat curing is necessary. This makes it possible to implement what Rock West Composites refers to as ‘rapid prototyping’.

Time Is the Enemy

Rock West says that time is one of the biggest enemies of the prototyping process. This is especially true for composites. Let’s say you own a company working with Rock West to build a prototype of a new product you want ready by the end of the year. The first prototype will take at least several days to produce – and that’s after the prototyping process has been designed.

That first prototype will have to be tested before adjustments can be made. Then the second prototype has to be created and inspected. This process continues until your staff is satisfied you have a prototype ready for mass production. Every prototype you need built adds more time to the process.

Rapid prototyping, made possible by new technology, allows for prototypes to be printed in hours. What could take days to do with a manual layup can now be completed before the work day is concluded. Multiple prototypes that would have been created over several weeks’ time can now be produced in just a few days.

Changing the Game

Rapid prototyping reduces the time required to get new products to market. It also makes for more efficient product design and a better understanding of what it will take to mass produce a product once it is finally ready to go. To say that rapid prototyping via 3D printing is changing the game is to understate the obvious.

Thanks to technology, carbon fiber prototyping is better today than it’s ever been. Companies like Rock West Composites can offer shorter production times, greater prototyping efficiency, and better end results.