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MarkForged is preparing to release the world’s first 3D printer that can create parts in carbon fibre, and the company hopes that its product helps to bring the composite to more engineers and others curious about the ultra-strong, lightweight composite.
“The base of people who do composites is low,” Greg Mark, co-founder of Boston-based MarkForged, told Manufacturers' Monthly.
“And they’re skilled, but it’s a small cottage industry, and as an engineer composites are this thing that you always wished you could use – they’re just hard to manufacture.”
Mark graduated from MIT as an aerospace engineer and completed his masters in 2005. He was naturally exposed to composites, though realises that not every engineer has the equipment to work with carbon fibre, which is 20 times stiffer than ABS thermoplastic and five times as strong, as well much stronger – and far lighter – than steel.
However, not every company has the resources to work with carbon fibre.
“If you’re a Lockheed or NASA or Boeing or one of these companies that can put in the thousands of quality control points, you can make the most amazing parts in the world,” said Mark.
“If you’re a company of ten people or 50 people, composites are out of your reach. Because you can’t do all these checks and all the steps you need.”
MarkForge’s answer to this problem, being premiered at SolidWorks World 2014 in San Diego this week, is its MarkOne 3D printer. According to the company, their machine – to be made generally available later this year – is able to affordably produce carbon fibre with a higher strength to weight ratio than 6061 – T6 aluminium, with resolution as high as 200 microns.
“Our accuracy right now is on with – we have the same x, y, z locating system as traditional 3D printers,” explained Mark.
“The guys who are doing it have PhDs in precision machine design from MIT. So our bed accuracy is ten microns. It’s super-accurate.”
The printer will be on pre-sale in three weeks from the company, which will also be selling consumables, for a price of US$5,000. It has a build size roughly “as big as a shoebox” at 305 mm by 160 mm by 160 mm, and is also able to print in fibreglass and PLA.
To give an idea of the price of creating a part, Mark said that the item (split into its component sections and pictured alongside) featured with this article would cost about US$26 to make.
Manufacturers’ Monthly is attending SolidWorks World 2014 as a guest of Dassault Systemes.