Few industries have gone untouched by the advancement of 3D printing. In the composites space, 3D printing technology has improved the printing process, allowing manufacturers a wider array of customization and applications than ever before.
The Science of 3D Printed Composites
3D printing is a process that joins materials together under computer control, resulting in a solid, three-dimensional object. Also known as “Additive Manufacturing,” 3D printing has come a long way since its inception in the 1980s. Today, 3D printers paired with comprehensive CAD software are capable of producing almost anything in record time, from boats to tools to housing components.
Composite materials are uniquely suited to 3D printing. Polymers are the preferred substrate for 3D composite projects, particularly for making GFRC. The technology works by fusing layer upon layer of substrate material to each other rapidly, then hardening those layers into a singular object.
Benefits of 3D Printing Composites
There are myriad benefits associated with 3D printing, and with 3D printed composites in particular. Complex objects are actually more efficiently produced through the technology. Changes to design specs can be made instantly by altering the CAD file, and little lead time is required to produce a part that can be implemented immediately. 3D printing’s flexibility makes it possible to produce nearly any size or shape object, meaning it’s fast-becoming the preferred technology for ultra-customized projects.
Of course, 3D printing still lags behind traditional injection moulding and other production methods in some areas. The printers themselves are expensive, and build rates tend to be slower than other methods. There is also significant post-processing required for 3D printed objects which may not have the same dimensional accuracy as those made using specialized equipment. 3D printed forms sometimes lack the chemical and mechanical stability required for use in high-pressure industrial situations.
Advancing the Science of 3D
There is a lot of opportunity for 3D printing to grow within composites. Today, the technology is already being used to serve textile composite applications in biotech, aeronautics, automotive, and more. The technology improves every year, and new materials (such as carbon fiber) are constantly being introduced as the “next big thing” in 3D printing.
It’s the inherent characteristics of glass fiber composite that makes it so well-suited for use with 3D printers. Strength, cost-effectiveness, and ease of customization are all reasons manufacturers turn to GFRC and will continue to be interested in the progress of 3D tech. If textile composites are undergoing a revolution, 3D printing is leading the charge.
B&W Fiberglass is an innovator in the glass fiber composites space. Our capabilities range from creating GFRC with customized specifications to consulting on the appropriate material for any commercial composite job.
Ready to learn more about how 3D printing has changed the way our customers use composites? Reach out to our team of experts today.